Biennial budget, road plan on path to governor's desk after passing House, Senate

04/15/2016 11:16 PM

FRANKFORT — Gov. Matt Bevin will soon consider a $21.5 billion biennial budget and a two-year road plan that maps out $3.6 billion in state and federal highway projects after both bills overwhelmingly passed the General Assembly on Friday, the final day of the legislative session.

The House of Representatives passed the two-year spending plan, House Bill 303, on a 98-1 vote, with Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, the lone dissenter. That followed a unanimous vote in the Senate.

HB 303 blends aspects of the governor’s, House’s and Senate’s versions of the budget, including provisions such as more than $1.2 billion in additional contributions to the state’s pension systems, $100 million for a workforce development bond pool, $25 million for the Work Ready Kentucky scholarship program for college students in two-year undergrad programs in public and private schools, and the creation of a permanent pension fund, with a $125 million appropriation to the account.

The bill also funds the judicial branch as recommended by Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. and includes 4.5 percent cuts for higher education, 3.375 percent reductions for constitutional offices, 9 percent cuts for many state agencies, $60 million in bond sales to help expand the Lexington Convention Center and $5 million to Kentucky State Parks for life-safety repairs at its facilities.

Bevin, in a statement, praised lawmakers for their work on the two-year spending proposal.

“Everyone came together bringing different viewpoints to the table,” the governor said after his first budget passed the legislature. “The result is that we have a budget that is going to put Kentucky on solid financial footing. It is conservative, focuses on important current priorities and also saves for the future.

“This budget sends a strong signal to the financial and business communities that we take our financial obligations seriously. I look forward to reviewing the details of the final bill over the coming days and signing a fiscally responsible budget into law.”

Minton, in a statement, said the $34.3 million appropriation for the judicial branch’s budget contained in HB 303 will allow the court system to “avoid the mass layoffs and programs cuts that would have occurred.”

He also thanked Bevin and legislative leaders for adding his funding request to HB 303.

“After cumulative budget reductions of 49 percent since 2008, one more biennium of extreme underfunding would have altered the environment of the courts as we know it,” Minton said.

“Today is a good day for our commonwealth,” he added. “All Kentuckians win when they can depend on a viable court system to provide essential services and administer justice in a timely manner.

No one but Wayne spoke against the bill on the House floor.

The state could do more to help those who rely on health benefits to survive and should enact tax reform to come up with new revenue, he said.

“The answer, as we all really know and that 20 studies and commissions have determined, is that we need to overhaul our revenue system,” Wayne said. “It is inadequate, it’s outdated and most of all, it’s unjust because the wealthy are not paying their fair share and the low-income, middle-income folks are paying much more than their fair share.”

Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, echoed Wayne’s point on tax reform.

“Because lawmakers again chose frozen funding levels and cuts over closing holes in our eroding revenue stream, the result is another budget that will weaken systems we need to prosper,” he said in a statement. “We’ll face the same or worse budget challenges two years from now unless we put cleaning up the tax code on the agenda moving forward. That’s the way we will again see budgets that can help Kentucky fulfill its promise, rather than ones that hinder our progress.”

The House also passed the final version of the two-year road plan, House Bill 129, on a 96-1 vote.

Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, was the lone dissenter on HB 129, saying his district was gutted in the plan while others stand to thrive. He noted that he was among those in the House who voted twice to stabilize the state’s Road Fund in recent sessions.

Some projects that had been included in previous versions of the highway construction plan have since disappeared, he said.

“I’m very frustrated at some of them down there when I look at over 40-some million dollars in a single county in some of the leaderships’ districts down there in the biennium, and projects that my area has been working on for years and that was actually in the House plan are taken out,” Carney said in a floor speech.


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