House budget shifts 'extra' money from textbook fund and preschool to fill in $15 mil. gap

03/11/2014 07:52 PM

The House version of the budget attacked a $15-million-a-year funding puzzle by shifting money the governor recommended for districts to spend on textbooks and preschool, as well as several other funds.

House leaders, in the budget bill that passed out of committee Tuesday, rejected Gov. Steve Beshear’s recommendation to allow county Property Valuation Administrators to hit up special taxing districts, like libraries and health departments, with an extra fee for assessing the properties that lead to their property tax income. That caused a ripple effect, forcing House Democratic leaders to make up $15 million each year in the $10-billion-a-year budget.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Beshear recommended more than what school districts needed for those programs. So the House version took $5 million out of the textbook funding on the recommendation of the education budget subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington.

Much of the rest of the spending plan looks similar to Beshear’s recommendations. Other comparatively small changes include adding funding for 15 more social workers for the department of public advocacy, salary bumps for audiologists in the education department and an increase in childcare and foster care rates as part of the health cabinet’s budget, said Greg Rush, the legislature’s deputy director for budget review.

It only took seven weeks, but the House is finally poised to vote on the next two-year $20 billion state spending plan.

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved the budget bill Tuesday, and the full 100-member House is expected to send it to the Senate Wednesday, with just a quarter of the days left in this 60 day session.

And one of the biggest debate points in committee Tuesday was how some Republicans didn’t like the timing and a perceived lack of transparency. Most Republicans passed on their vote in committee.

The House panel also approved a companion bill with some unfinished tax business. Most notably, the legislation addresses a court ruling earlier this year regarding instant racing. The courts have said Kentucky horse racetracks can continue to offer that game but said the Kentucky Racing Authority didn’t have the power to impose a tax on the proceeds from the game, which was first installed at Kentucky Downs in southern Kentucky in September 2011.

This bill would apply the tax retroactively to then and would slightly raise it to go to a horse fund.

In the other chamber, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he had concerns about applying a tax retroactively, as well as raising it.

Also as part of the tax bill, House leaders sought to deal with a long-simmering controversy in Northern Kentucky over library funding.

Six members of the Northern Kentucky Tea Party had filed lawsuits against the Campbell and Kenton counties’ library districts. They have argued that the libraries erred by collecting too much money from the property taxes for more than 30 years without allowing voters the chance to approve that tax increase. The libraries’ boards thought what they had done to increase the property tax was proper.

The revenue measure passed Tuesday includes a provision to give a retroactive go-ahead to those library districts. Here’s how Pam Thomas, Appropriations and Revenue Committee staff administrator, explained it and how Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson of Covington wasn’t happy about the move:


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