As the fiscal year comes to a close, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear says it’s too soon to say if spending cuts will be needed to balance the state budget.
State officials predicted earlier this month a shortfall “significantly larger” than the $28 million projected in April. Beshear told WKU Public Radio that one area in particular is contributing to the shortfall.
"The income tax is not coming in as high as projected. We're looking at that to see if there's any particular reasons to address in the future, but we won't know a lot of that for another few weeks," said Beshear.
The income tax, which is Kentucky’s largest source of revenue, has grown by one-half percent this year. State officials expected it to grow by 2.4 percent.
Tapping into the state’s rainy day fund, which currently has about $100 million, is one option under consideration for balancing the budget.
The Kentucky Arts Council is examining data gathered by two studies regarding the status of art education across the commonwealth. The studies were conducted by South Arts, an organization that represents Kentucky and eight other states. Lori Meadows is executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council.
“Arts education really contributes to the education of the whole student,” said Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council. “In other words, it teaches creative thinking skills and the ability to connect different curriculum and different subject areas together.”
The studies found that a sampling of Kentucky schools is performing at-or-above national averages when it comes to providing access to arts education. But Meadows cautions that only 27 percent of schools in the state responded to the a voluntary survey known as Phase One. But Phase Two, says Meadows, profiled an individual program that has shown success. In Kentucky’s case it was Owensboro Public Schools.
“Children in that district – the students start out and they have the ability to participate in visual art, drama, music and dance,” said Meadows. “And at that particular high school [Owensboro High School] the drama program, known as the Rose Curtain players, is the oldest high school drama program in the state.”
Meadows says community support of arts education is equally important as what is provided by school districts.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes on Sunday to promote a plan to relieve student loan debt.
Warren has been canvassing the country following a failed vote in the U.S. Senate that would have allowed some people to refinance their student loan debt to take advantage of lower interest rates. But Republicans, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, blocked the bill because it would have raised taxes on wealthy Americans to pay for it.
Grimes and Warren criticized McConnell for siding with millionaires instead of students. McConnell has said the bill was about politics and never about students. He voted for a 2013 bipartisan compromise on lowering student loan interest rates. Warren opposed that bill.
House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, a defense attorney by trade, has known and worked with Mark Stanziano for many years and says he was stunned by the news out of Somerset Friday morning.
Stanziano, 57, was fatally shot as he walked near his law office. Police have taken 40-year-old Clinton Inabnitt into custody in connection with Stanziano's death. He's now charged with murder.
“Well I was just in shock and disbelief,” said Hoover. “Then I was sick at my stomach thinking that such a senseless act could take place, you know, just a guy going to his law office and he gets gunned down.”
Hoover, who works in neighboring Russell County, says Stanziano never shied away from taking high-profile cases and called him a “very, very good” defense attorney.
“He was very knowledgeable; he was very good in front of a jury. He did not shy away from high-profile or high-publicity cases. In fact, I think Mark enjoyed those.”
Hoover says representing accused criminals in small town, high-profile cases can be especially challenging. He says he had known Stanziano for many years and had several cases pending with him.
Police say the man charged in connection with Stanziano’s death had contact with the attorney as recently as Thursday. Inabnitt told police Stanziano had failed to help him with an unknown problem.
The WKU Board of Regents has approved a budget that gets nearly half of its funding from student tuition and fees. By a 9-2 vote Friday morning, regents passed a $392 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
The new budget contains a $3.1 million dollar cut to Academic Affairs, which includes the elimination of 26 vacant faculty positions.
WKU History Professor and Faculty Regent Patti Minter was one of the two who voted against the budget. She said while some can argue it makes sense that academic departments face the toughest cuts since they have the largest overall piece of the budget, such decisions are harming WKU’s ability to attract and retain the best teachers and researchers.
“All of this would impact the students negatively,” Dr. Minter told WKU Public Radio. “Because this is the core mission, this is why Dr. Cherry built this college on a hill in 1906. And as he said in the depths of the depression, in these times we have to cut out all the extracurriculars, and we have to get back to the basics, which if the academic mission.”
Less than 19 percent of the next WKU budget comes from state funding, with nearly 49 percent made up of student tuition and fees.
As part of the budget, the Regents also approved a 4.8 percent tuition increase for resident undergraduate students, who will now pay nearly $4,600 per semester. The spending plan also includes a one percent cost-of living adjustment for WKU employees, with a minimum increase of $500 per worker.
WKU President Gary Ransdell told reporters after Friday’s regents meeting that declining state funding for higher education is a trend that has to be reversed soon.
“If we can get to the point we’ve gotten beyond state budget cuts, that would be a modest satisfaction. The victory will be if we can finally get Kentucky to invest in higher education, because it’s been now six years.”
WKU Health Services Deal Imminent
In addition to passing a budget, WKU regents were also told the school is close to signing an agreement with Graves Gilbert Clinic to run the campus Health Services operation which serves students, faculty, and staff. The school announced in March it would seek to privatize the campus facility, with an estimated savings of $1.1 million dollars.
The increasingly high summer temperatures are bringing the normal reminders to avoid leaving children alone in vehicles. But an Evansville animal shelter says pet owners also need to be aware of the dangers of leaving dogs inside hot vehicles.
Vanderburgh Humane Society Executive Director Kendall Paul says many dog owners make the mistake of thinking it’s OK to leave their pet in a vehicle with the windows cracked. She says the temperature inside that vehicle increases very quickly.
“I always recommend to people—try it yourself. Go out there on a hot and sit in that car for a few minutes with the windows rolled up, or even with them cracked a little bit, and you’re going to start to see what kind of temperatures very fast you’re putting your animal in. But we just recommend that you don’t do it.”
Paul adds that pet owners often tell themselves they’ll only be gone for a few minutes, and that their animal will be fine inside the car without any air conditioning.
“And often times if you just run in for a few minutes, you think it’s just going to be a few minutes in the store, but then it takes a little bit longer, or something delays you,” Paul said. “It only takes a short amount of time—once the temperatures outside start hitting in the 70s and 80 degrees, the temperature inside that car is going to climb even higher than that.”
Published research shows a car in 84-degree weather reached an interior temperature of 110 degrees in about 18 minutes. In 88-degree weather, the car reached 110 in about 14 minutes.
The research also found that cracking a window had little effect on the car's temperature.
Most regions of Kentucky are adding jobs, but most of those jobs don't pay very much according to a recent analysis by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
University of Louisville economist Paul Coomes said four of the the state's nine regions are above the national average in terms of job growth. But the average pay per job in all nine regions was lower than the national average.
Northern Kentucky had the highest growth in average pay at 18%, while the mountain region in eastern Kentucky had no growth at all. The national average for wage growth since the last recession is about 23%.
Coomes will expand on his report during a July 22nd speech during the Chamber's annual meeting in Louisville.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence says Republicans must dramatically limit the federal government's role in education, welfare programs and transportation. Pence says that state leaders, not the federal government, should be responsible for those areas.
Pence made the comments Thursday night in a speech to political donors in New York City. He was in New York to help boost his national profile ahead of a possible presidential bid.
The former Congressman isn't as well known on the national stage as some other potential candidates, such as Kentucky senator Rand Paul, but Republican operatives suggest he could emerge as a major player should he decide to run.
It was Pence's second meeting with New York donors in as many months. He's also been bolstering his policy resume at home and abroad.
Kentucky is poised to receive federal grant money to improve broadband speeds in public schools.
The Federal Communication Commission’s E-rate program provides $2.4 billion dollars annually to schools across the country to modernize Internet accessibility.
Now that the FCC has pledged an additional $2 billion for the next two years, Kentucky educators are poised to get a $22 million slice of that pie.
Associate Commissioner of the state’s Office of Next Generation Learners, Amanda Ellis, says the money will improve connectivity to wireless devices that can download video lessons for students to watch at home.
“Students have the opportunity to watch videos in the evening, or after school. And when they go into their classrooms, and their teachers work from what they learned online. That’s not accessible to a lot of people even in the school setting, because it’s not fast enough.”
The FCC is expected to make a decision on the funds next month.