Session winds down in Frankfort

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April 14, the Senate and House began the last two legislative days. During the veto period which was April 1 through April 11, the capitol remained relatively quiet. I have been working on finalizing the Road Plan, which funds projects for the next two years for our roads and bridges.

The final budget bills that passed March 31 represent responsible borrowing and spending of revenue. We prioritized education and public employees’ wages, and we also tried to keep the cuts at a minimum to higher education institutions. Many state agencies will receive cuts up to five percent, and this is a tough reality, but one that we must endure during the stalled economy.

As the conference committee negotiated the final budget, we were able to reach a compromise on most items. We led the charge in reducing borrowing and spending. We found efficient and responsible ways to fund educational technology. Some of the key items of the final budget bills follow.

The Senate prioritized a more fiscally responsible plan than the original budget proposal. The final budget borrows less money and uses less one-time money to pay recurring expenses than the proposals from the Governor and House. That means both the debt service ratio and structural imbalance are lower.

In addition to fiscal responsibility, we prioritized giving all Kentucky students the opportunity for quality education. The final budget supports Kentucky’s education efforts from preschool to college. The plan will expand the state’s preschool program in 2016, increase K-12 per-pupil (SEEK) funding, and add nearly $10 million for education technology.

Also, there is additional funding for Career and Technical Education to fill vacant teaching positions at vocational schools throughout the state. Also retained were increased funding for college scholarships through the Kentucky Tuition Grants (KTG) and the College Access Program (CAP).

While some state agencies and programs will face cuts up to 5 percent in the next biennium, critical areas like Medicaid are protected from reductions. Also, funding for child care subsidies for low-income families will be restored.

The budget also includes pay raises for state employees for the first time since 2008, most of whom are taking home less now than several years ago due to increased insurance cost. The final budget includes raises for public school teachers and judicial branch employees as well. However, legislators did not receive any raise.

We were also able to avoid requiring libraries and health departments to pay for Property Valuation Administrators to collect taxes, as proposed by the Governor. This would have put a large strain on the budgets of these important public services. This was not implemented due to additional general fund support to PVAs instead of placing the entire burden on special districts.

To assuage speculation about the stability of Kentucky’s retirement system, this budget also fully funds the Kentucky Employee Retirement System’s Actuarially Recommended Contribution (ARC), and provides $372.3 million in FY15 and $380.5 million in FY16 for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System employer match for qualified local school district employees.

We also made sure to include language provisions to ensure taxpayer dollars are used responsibly. For example, the budget specifies that no general fund dollars may be used for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, which has been done without legislative approval with the promise it would be paid for by federal funds. Likewise, funds received as a result of the ACA may not be used to permanently expand or create programs.

If you have any issues or concerns, please call my office in Frankfort at 502-564-8100 or toll free at 1-800-372-7181. I appreciate your time and input.