Despite flashes of budget hope, Senate chairman says it's too early to say whether cuts can be reversed

07/11/2013 08:27 AM

Sen. Bob Leeper, the Senate’s budget chairman, said even after some education and health programs have seen their state funding slashed it’s too early for advocates and agency heads to get their hopes up that the next two-year spending plan will be much better.

“I’m not wiling to say that six months out,” said Leeper, Kentucky’s only registered independent lawmaker. “To raise expectations at this point, I don’t think that’s appropriate. We’re definitely a little more comfortable than we were.”

The state budget office announced late Wednesday that the general fund finished the fiscal year June 30 with a $40.5 million surplus. While that’s a good sign, that amounts to only half of the $81 million shortfall in one health cabinet agency that resulted in cuts to a key program that provides stipends to low-income families to send their children to daycare.

At 3:00 of the interview, Leeper fielded questions about specific cuts to higher education and mental health agencies in Kentucky. Kentucky cut mental health funding 47 percent between 2009 and 2011, the deepest cut of any state in the nation.

“I don’t for a second not think about the effect those cuts have had overtime on those groups,” Leeper said (at 6:15). “And in some areas it is a true cut and in some areas its just they didn’t get the increase they wanted and so you have a whole different myriad of things that different groups are interested in and we are listening to them right now.”

Leeper, like other lawmakers, said he is open to a tax reform measure — but only if he’s convinced it will help generate jobs and help Kentucky’s economy.

“To get any kind of tax reform measure through the legislature that has a dramatic increase in tax revenue is unlikely so that’s not the mindset I go into it with,” Leeper said (at 10:00).

He said Gov. Steve Beshear should be responsible for outlining a first proposal and making the case to both lawmakers and their constituents.

“I think anything that will create jobs, allow industries to grow, put people back to work so that they can pay the taxes in whatever form they are I’d be supportive of,” Leeper said (at 12:30).

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