The Kentucky House of Representatives has approved a bill that would increase the state’s gas tax by two percent.
Filed by Rep. Rick Rand, the measure passed by nine votes. It will also tax instant horse racing, and retroactively fix issues with library taxing districts.
But the body delayed an anticipated vote on its version of Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal, which funds state government for the next two years. House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins says lawmakers need extra time to study the measure.
“I think this is a good budget for education, for economic development, for health and human services," Rep. Adkins said. "The other items that we’ve tried to build back in after $1.6 billion of cuts since 2008, so we think that, we’re very confident that we have the votes.”
The House is expected to vote on its budget Thursday.
A number of budget bills are moving through the Kentucky legislature, including a modified version of Gov. Steve Beshear’s $20.3 billion biennial budget.
The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee cleared bills that would fund the state’s legislative, executive, judicial branches for the next two years.
Louisville Rep. Jim Wayne was one of the few lawmakers who voted against Beshear's planned budget. He lamented a provision in the bill that would cut funds for indigent health care at the University of Louisville Hospital.
“This is a real concern in our community because the city had to cut back its share also, and just recently there was a case where someone who was burned on 50 percent of their body who was put on the street ended up in the Wayside mission because he had no insurance, even though they tried to register him," the Jefferson County Democrat said. "Somehow bureaucracy got delayed.”
The funds were reduced as a part of savings assumed by the governor through the Affordable Care Act.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo says the House is poised to pass the budget bill Wednesday.
The legislature has until April 15 to pass a new state budget.
The legislative scrutiny has begun for Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear's proposed budget.
Some lawmakers are critical of the proposal for relying on professional license fees to balance the budget.
From barbers to doctors, blue and white-collar professionals in Kentucky must pay licensure fees in order to practice their given trade. Those fees then go back into funding and staffing the licensing board.
But Beshear’s budget proposal transfers about $370 million in surplus fees to the General Fund, creating a structural imbalance.
Rep. Jim Wayne calls that robbery.
“It puts the boards and commissions in a position where they have to raise the rates on people who are being regulated by their boards and commissions," the Louisville Democrat said. "So, if they don’t have the money to sustain them because it’s been robbed by the governor, they have to go back and then tax, in essence.”
Wayne says the practice has become so commonplace, it’s become a “new normal.”
The President of WKU says he’s not counting on a big tuition increase to help offset a proposed cut in state funding for universities.
Dr. Gary Ransdell says he believes the Council on Postsecondary Education will cap the next round of potential tuition increases at about three percent.
That’s the increase the CPE set last April for in-state undergraduate students beginning this fall. President Ransdell told WKU Public Radio that it’s probably not realistic to expect anything more than that.
“Even if the CPE would allow a higher number, we’re not likely to go there,” Dr. Ransdell said during a break in Friday’s Board of Regents meeting. “So we’re going to have a modest tuition increase. Every year there’s going to be a tuition increase. It will simply cover our fixed-cost increases. These other items are going to have to be funded in some other way—probably through redirection of funds within our budget.”
The proposed budget announced by Governor Beshear this week includes a 2.5 percent spending reduction for state universities, which amounts to a loss of $1.8 million for WKU in fiscal year 2015.
Kentucky minimum wage increase?
A proposed increase in Kentucky’s minimum wage would add an estimated $419,000 to WKU's current payroll obligations. Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo is sponsoring legislation that would boost the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, up from the current $7.25 an hour.
Democratic Representative Tommy Thompson told WKU Public Radio he's hoping the governor will announce a boost for the statewide education funding formula known as SEEK, or "Support Education Excellence in Kentucky".
"It's really being funded at the 2009 level," Rep. Thompson said. "And then the strands of education--things like professional development and afterschool services and I.T. Those things have been dramatically cut some 30 to 40 percent over the last four or five years."
Thompson thinks there is also a chance the governor will announce funding for some capital projects around the state.
"Technology buildings, science buildings, education buildings--those types of things that are about reinvesting in communities that not only provide construction jobs, but also provide opportunities for workforce training and skill development," the Philpot Democrat said.
Gov. Steve Beshear is set to deliver his budget proposal to a joint session of the Kentucky House and Senate. It marks the starting point for months of haggling over a larger pool of state revenues still not expected to meet funding demands.
Leading up to his Tuesday night speech, the governor warned lawmakers face a "tough budget situation," despite the projected upswing in revenue flowing into Kentucky's General Fund in the next two years.
Beshear says the extra revenue will be consumed by big-ticket spending obligations, including shoring up the government pension system.
The governor has said he's willing to propose cuts in parts of state government to free up money for education.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer predicts lawmakers will say "no" to most requests for additional funding.
The leader of Kentucky's Council on Postsecondary Education is joining others in calling for the Governor to renew funding for the state's colleges and universities.
CPE President Bob King and officials from Kentucky's postsecondary institutions have signed a newspaper op-ed pointing out that 70,000 students who qualified for need-based aid last year went without.
King says state campuses have had to take revenue from students who could pay full tuition to help fund aid programs that Pell Grants and state programs can no longer fully support.
"The aid that's being provided by the institutions means that those dollars that they are otherwise receiving in the form of tuition can't be spent to hire more faculty, or to (purchase) more computing equipment or laboratory equipment--all the things that we need to enhance the academic experience for our students," King said during a phone interview.
King's comments come ahead of Governor Beshear's budget address Tuesday evening in Frankfort.
As Kentucky lawmakers kick off the inaugural day of the 2014 General Assembly, the scope of the state's dire budgetary situation is coming into focus: Legislators will have to find a way to come up with $3.6 billion to fully fund agency budget requests.
Data from the Office of the State Budget Director shows that budget requests from all three branches of state government as well as state agencies totals over $23 billion for the next two fiscal years.
The state’s general fund, however, is expected to have less than $20 billion in revenue.
The state’s budget director, Jane Driskell, has warned that budget cuts are likely.
Gov. Steve Beshear will submit his budget proposal to lawmakers on Jan. 21.
As temperatures in Kentucky slowly climb out of the polar abyss, so too will state lawmakers emerge from their districts and trek to Frankfort for the opening day of the 2014 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
The session got underway Tuesday.
Kentucky legislators will have until the relatively balmy date of April 15 to craft a biennial state budget, which will be a difficult task: Amid one of the toughest economic outlooks in recent memory, legislators will be forced to grapple with funding priority issues like reinvesting in K-12 education and funding nearly $900 in teachers' pension liabilities.
Many people, from political observers to politicians themselves, have estimated that in order to fully fund these and other priorities, an additional $400 million to $1 billion (or more) in revenue must be raised to plug the gap in spending.
But the state expects only $250 million in additional revenue.
Although the budget will be the front and center issue, here's a glimpse at some other legislative priorities: