Kentucky's general fund tax revenues increased 2.4 percent in March - enough to ward off a deficit but not enough to promise a surplus.
State Budget Director Jane Driskell announced the state collected $753.5 million in March, a $17.7 million increase from last year. State officials predicted Kentucky's revenues would grow 2.1 percent in the 2014 budget year that ends June 30. For that to happen, revenues must grow 3.9 percent in the next three months.
Driskell said she is confident the state will meet the estimate but said a surplus is becoming less likely.
Road fund revenues increased $22.8 million in March, an increase of 19.9 percent. Road fund collections must increase an additional 2.7 percent over the next three months in order to meet the estimate.
The budget Kenutcky lawmakers approved this week will give $1.5 million to a costly renovation of the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
The money would be used to finance architects' and engineering fees and other planning costs for the $310 million project.
Republican lawmakers got few answers from Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who lobbied House and Senate leadership for $65 million for the project during marathon budget talks held in Frankfort over the weekend.
Gray said the project would create thousands of jobs in Lexington, and failing to provide the amount would “drive a stake through the heart of the project.”
Details of the project remain scarce, as Gray and other officials are under a verbal non-disclosure agreement with the university.
The director of one of Kentucky’s leading non-profit economic policy think tanks says the recently-passed state budget fails to address the state’s revenue problem.
Jason Bailey, the director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, says the budget, which includes five percent cuts to over a dozen state agencies, reflects the 14th round of harmful cuts since 2008, and doesn't do enough to generate new revenue.
“There are areas that have been time after time after time, so I think for higher education, for human services, for areas like environmental and public and worker protection, I think those systems will be frayed even further by the cuts that we’ve seen.”
Bailey adds that the revenue bill passed by the legislature that gives tax breaks to the bourbon industry and beer and wine wholesalers aren’t worth the cuts to important state agencies.
After winning speedy approval in the Senate, the Kentucky House has given final passage of the state’s $20 billion two-year budget.
Lawmakers passed a series of budget bills funding the legislative, judicial and executive branches of state government with minimal debate, and earlier than they have in previous years.
The budget bills will head to Gov. Steve Beshear’s desk for approval. They largely preserve his efforts to fund K-12 education at the cost of other state programs.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo hailed the compromise with the Senate as an example of how democracy can work.
“The gridlock and the stalemate that’s engulfed both parties in Washington didn’t make it’s way to Kentucky. It worked," Stumbo said, to applause from fellow lawmakers. "And you can go home tonight and you can look your constituents in the eye while you’re on this veto break and you can say it worked. We did what you paid us to do.”
Lawmakers will now break for two weeks until returning April 14 for a veto session.
Provisions to block state money from being used on Kentucky's implementation of the Affordable Care Act will remain in the budget agreement reached over the weekend by state lawmakers. Sparring between House Democrats and Senate Republicans over the ACA dominated negotiations.
The ACA covers the costs of implementation through 2017, after which the tab will be split with the state.
Now, Senate President Robert Stivers says lawmakers will send the governor a budget that blocks general funds from going toward the state's health insurance exchange, Kynect, and the expansion of Medicaid.
"I think everybody saw that we have worked hard over the last three or four days," the Manchester Republican said. "There's been a lot of discussions. At points in time there may have been a little bit of political theater involved but we've reached an agreement, compromising and understanding the realities of each person's positions and each region's positions and each party's positions."
Currently, over 320,000 people have been insured through Kynect, with two-thirds obtaining Medicaid coverage.
Top Kentucky House and Senate lawmakers appear to have reached an agreement on the state's next two-year budget.
The Herald-Leader reports that negotiators from both chambers hammered out a budget deal after being cloistered in a committee room at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort Saturday night. They emerged from the room at around 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
Many of the sticking points worked out in the overnight meeting involved funding for higher education and money for K-12 education.
The blueprint would cut the operational budgets of state universities by 1.5 percent, which is less than the 2.5 percent cut proposed by Governor Steve Beshear. Most schools, like WKU, would be allowed to choose a top priority building project that would be paid for by general fund bonds and agency bonds.
House and Senate lawmakers are far from agreeing on how to spend $20 billion in tax money during the next two years.
Talks broke down early Friday afternoon over $1 million for expanded cancer screenings and $500,000 to replace a roof at a domestic violence shelter in Louisville.
Senate Republicans argued the cancer screening money is unnecessary now that Medicaid and private insurance plans are required to pay for them under the federal Affordable Care Act. Democrats say the money is still needed because not everyone has signed up for insurance yet.
Lawmakers have yet to discuss big issues in the budget, including a 1.5 cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax and $65 million for the renovation of Rupp Arena in Lexington.
The Kentucky Senate’s $20 billion budget proposal aims to defund the Affordable Care Act in the commonwealth, but its provisions won’t affect the program.
The Senate’s executive budget that was passed Monday disallows state general funds from being used to fund the ACA, the commonwealth’s Medicaid expansion and the state health insurance exchange, Kynect, all of which are federally funded until the year 2017.
But the state budget only affects fiscal years 2014-2016, making the measure largely a political one in advance of November’s elections.
When asked what his chamber would do if the 321,000 Kentuckians enrolled via Kynect lost their coverage due to the ACA being defunded, Sen. President Robert Stivers said he would support “supplemental programs,” like health savings accounts, to help insure them.
A slash to Governor Steve Beshear’s proposal for mine safety in the Kentucky House budget bill passed this month has many safety advocates concerned. They say there might not be enough money to conduct required inspections.
Gov. Beshear has proposed $7.6 million in each of the next two years for the state program that inspects and licenses coal mines. But when the budget bill was passed by the House, Beshear’s budget office noticed the number had been reduced to $5.3 million per year.
The Courier-Journal reports the 15 percent reduction was not discussed during the budget committee meeting or floor session when the bill was passed. In response, Gov. Beshear says his administration is “very concerned about the lack of sufficient funds to ensure safety” for miners, and the House and Senate will work together to ensure the funding is there “to cover critical needs in the agency.”