Terri Branham Clark
A month and a half after Gov. Andy Beshear presented his administration’s two-year budget proposal to the General Assembly, the Kentucky House of Representatives made its version public Thursday evening and sent it on to the Senate Friday morning.
The governor’s and House’s proposed budgets have common ground. Both, for example, set aside more than half of every state tax dollar for education and much of the rest for criminal justice and health and human service programs, and both fully fund the state’s pension requirements for state employees.
However, there are still significant differences between the two budgets.
Gov. Beshear, for example, proposes hiring 350 new social workers, to make caseloads more manageable. House leaders, however, recommend dropping that to 100 new workers, while raising the salaries of those already on the job. Last week, a federal report showed that, for the second year in a row, no state has a higher rate of child mistreatment than Kentucky. We absolutely must do more to ensure every child is not abused and is able to grow up in a loving home, so I hope whichever is decided the needed funding is allocated.
Another difference between the budgets is that Gov. Beshear recommended giving teachers a $2,000 raise, while the House proposed a one-percent annual raise for all school employees. I support the across-the-board raise, but also believe the increase for teachers is needed to keep pace with what other states are considering. Just this year alone, governors in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana have recommended spending tens of millions of dollars in new money for their educators.
While there are some differences, both put more money toward per-pupil spending, new textbooks and buying newer buses for schools needing to replace those more than 15 years old as well as one percent raises for state employees, not to include legislators.
For coal counties, both budgets would return all non-committed coal severance tax dollars to them, which they desperately need and deserve, however, the House budget allocates to coal producing only rather than also including coal impact counties. Boyd is a coal impact county and I disagree with this change in the House version of the budget.
Both budgets also set aside the $35 million the University of Louisville needs in a partially forgivable loan for its purchase of Jewish Hospital and other medical properties.
On the downside, the House budget provides less money than the governor’s for programs that help those with disabilities; it seriously undercuts the state’s efforts to provide faster broadband service throughout the state; and it doesn’t include the governor’s plan to raise the training stipend that eligible first responders receive. The House budget also removed funding to the reestablished Commission on Women that the Governor recommended, while allocating half a million taxpayer dollars to the University of Louisville’s Ordered Liberty Fellowship, a conservative think tank program in its inception at the university. I adamantly oppose this allocation and hope to see it removed before final passage.
Another area where the two budgets diverge is new revenue. Gov. Beshear’s budget assumed money from sports wagering, which is not in the House budget since the bill legalizing it remains stalled there. The House budget did agree with the governor’s plan to raise more money from e-cigarettes, but not to increase the cigarette tax, however that bill has yet to pass the Senate.
Now that the House has put its stamp on the budget, the Senate gets its turn. Afterward, legislative leaders will come up with a compromise; the governor will accept or reject some or all of it; and the legislature will decide whether to accept or override any of his vetoes. That process will conclude by mid-April, and the two-year budget will take effect in July.
While this may have been the biggest news of the week, it wasn’t the only issue to draw considerable public interest.
Early in the week, the House spent several hours debating Senate Bill 2, which would, with some limited exceptions, require photo IDs when voting even though current law already requires identification be shown. Others and I argued that there are many voters who do not have a photo ID, and even though the bill proposes to provide these for free, it still creates an unnecessary barrier and could cost the state millions of tax dollars. It’s also a lot of effort when state officials say 98 percent of voters already show a photo ID and there has not been a single instance of in-person voting fraud in Kentucky in at least 20 years. I believe we should be spending time and money making voting easier and more accessible to Kentuckians.
Speaking of identification, the House voted for another bill on Thursday that will set in motion plans to move the issuance of driver’s licenses from the Circuit Court Clerk’s office in each county to regional and mobile centers overseen by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
This is being done to meet federal requirements for the REAL ID program, which was authorized by Congress as a homeland security measure in 2005, but the unfortunate impact is that drivers in many counties will soon have to travel much farther to get their driver’s license.
Finally, I want to highlight Gov. Beshear’s recent announcement that the 152,000 people with a non-violent felony record who had their voting rights restored by him in December can now quickly check their eligibility. If you believe you are part of that of that group, or know someone who may be, please visit civilrightsrestoration.ky.gov. A link there will lead you to another website where you can register to vote.