Whitesburg KY

We need all of coal severance money

When former Governor Steve Beshear presented his administration’s first budget back in 2008, he said he knew that the cupboard would be bare, but he didn’t expect it to be gone.

A dozen years and many spending cuts later, his son and current Governor Andy Beshear is facing an even tougher situation. Still, the budget proposal he gave legislators on Jan. 28 is a major step forward in many ways.

For one, it doesn’t make any across-the-board cuts, something we haven’t seen since the mid-2000s. Second, it makes a major commitment to education. And, third, it is does a lot of great things for eastern Kentucky.

The budget, of course, is the biggest responsibility the governor and the General Assembly have during legislative sessions in even-numbered years. It sets our priorities in a way no other law can.

The budget process actually began months ago, when state agencies compiled their projected needs while the state’s economists determined exactly how much money the budget would have.

Now that the House has this document in hand, our Appropriations and Revenue Committee and its eight subcommittees will begin their review, and changes they recommend will be voted on by the full chamber sometime by early March. The Senate will then follow a similar path, at which point legislative leaders will hammer out a final compromise in late March that, once passed, will then go back to the governor for any potential vetoes.

After the General Assembly considers those, should there be any, the budget will then become law and take effect on July 1.

With the governor’s office and the legislature controlled by different parties, there is no doubt that changes will be made in the weeks ahead. My goal is to make sure that some especially important proposals stay in place.

To start, I believe the final budget must put more money toward education, from preschool to post-secondary. Governor Beshear would increase overall spending in this area by $400 million over the next two years, and that would go to such things as raising the per-pupil amount, giving teachers raises and buying new textbooks, which received nothing in the current budget. He also would give our public post-secondary schools a slight increase.

For eastern Kentucky, I think it is absolutely vital that the General Assembly approves the governor’s plan to return all of our coal-severance tax dollars to the counties that generate them after the debt service is paid. This has been a goal of our region for years, and it needs to happen.

I also support the governor’s plan to speed up the improvements for the Mountain Parkway. The sooner we can get this done, the better.

Another important part of the governor’s budget is helping our quasi-governmental agencies like health departments, domestic violence shelters and mental-health organizations. They are facing a huge increase in their payments to the state retirement system if we don’t act, and I worry many will close or shut down a lot of their services if nothing is done.

This issue was the focus of a special session last summer, and many of my colleagues and I argued then that the agencies’ already-high retirement costs should be capped, because if the agencies close, it would cost the state far more to provide these services. Fortunately, Governor Beshear’s budget would give them much more breathing room and keep them from leaving the state retirement system, as last summer’s law allows.

In other areas, the governor’s budget would provide raises to state workers and continue with full payments to the state’s two main retirement systems. He also calls for an increase in training stipends for our law enforcement officers and firefighters and would hire several hundred new social workers, which we desperately need.

Most of the governor’s budget relies on money the state is expected to receive, but there are also new revenues from such things as sports wagering, which the legislature would need to approve separately this year. For now, there’s no way of knowing whether this part of the budget recommendation will ultimately be adopted. If these proposals aren’t approved, we will need to trim the budget accordingly.

I want to thank everyone who has contacted me so far this legislative session, and I expect to hear from many more in the two-and-a-half months we have left to pass the budget and other new laws.

If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns, you can email me at Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, or you can leave a message for me or any legislator by calling 1-800-372-7181, a toll-free line that is open year-round.

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