Republicans' reaction to 1st budget draft: lots of 'candy' but too much debt

01/22/2014 07:41 AM

Unlike past budget debates, Republicans in the legislature didn’t automatically dismiss Gov. Steve Beshear first proposal, which he laid out Tuesday night.

“There was a lot of candy promised out there to a lot of folks around the state and some of it very worthy,” said Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown.

So now Beshear’s two-year $20 billion state budget will serve as a pinata over the next 9-12 weeks. Lawmakers will take whacks at it hoping to keep as much of the candy as possible but making some changes.

And if the immediate reaction from Republicans on Tuesday was any indication, reducing the amount Kentucky will put on its credit card will be chief among the changes.

Beshear, writing his fourth and last two-year budget plan as governor, proposed adding to the state’s total debt by selling bonds for projects like $60 million for broadband internet expansion, allowing the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to sell agency bonds for projects on its 16 campuses and bonds for projects like Rupp Arena’s renovation, a revamped University of Kentucky Law School and the Kentucky International Convention Center. The result is a debt ratio of more than 7 percent of the state’s revenue — the highest ever. But Beshear said he would be comfortable with that.

Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown and the Republican House floor leader, said he isn’t.

Hoover also said he wants to see lawmakers take a closer look at which agencies should be cut rather than just applying 5 percent reductions to most departments.

For instance, Hoover suggested eliminating the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, saying that agency could be absorbed by the Agriculture Department led by Commissioner James Comer.

Comer, meanwhile, stopped short of calling for that, saying he thinks it should be part of a broader review.

But Comer agreed with Hoover that Beshear’s proposal included too much debt.

One proposal Comer embraced, though, was Beshear’s pitch for a 2 percent raise for teachers next year and another 1 percent raise the following year. After the governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address two weeks ago, Comer called for that .

Here was Comer’s take Tuesday night after the governor’s speech:

Thayer said it’s too early in the process to say what provisions or specific proposals the Senate will want to jettison or keep in a final budget bill.

Thayer described Beshear’s as too focused on “throwing money at the problem.” And he expected Republicans in the legislature to exchange ideas with the Democrats, including repeal of prevailing wage.

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