On Friday, we succeeded in passing a two-year, $21.5 billion biennial budget for the Commonwealth that restores funding for some of our most effective programs in K-12 education, and lessens the blow of deep cuts the governor proposed for our public colleges and universities.
Throughout the negotiation process, the House Majority fought to protect public education and the positive momentum our students and teachers have made, while also taking historic steps to strengthen Kentucky’s pension systems for retired teachers and state employees.
In these goals, we achieved solid results – no cuts will be made to K-12 funding for family resource and youth service centers, dropout prevention efforts, preschool and after-school programs, gifted classes, professional development and textbook purchases. Additionally, we set aside more than $1.2 billion in new money to shore up KTRS and KERS, while also providing an additional $125 million in a permanent fund to address future pension costs after an independent audit is conducted to determine the best placement of the money.
The House Majority was also successful in raising preschool eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, opening the door for many more Kentucky children to obtain high-quality instruction in preparation for kindergarten.
We also maintained the “Powerball Promise” by returning virtually all state lottery proceeds to state KEES scholarships and need-based scholarship programs. This budget also provides $88 million for urgent-needs schools to reduce the number of aging facilities our students and staffs now use.
Additionally, there are no funding cuts, as originally included in the governor’s proposal, for the Kentucky School for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Deaf.
Compromise was required
In the end, the importance of passing a budget without a costly special session required a compromise that calls for a 4.5 percent cut to higher education, but this reduction is half of the nine percent cut that both Gov. Bevin and the Senate originally sought in each of the next two fiscal years.
To help offset these cuts, and provide much-needed assistance to working families, we urged our Senate colleagues to join us in creation of the House Majority’s new “Work Ready” Scholarship Program that will help create a reliable, well-trained workforce without saddling our young students with enormous college debt.
I am pleased to report that both the Senate and the House gave final approval to our legislation to make this program a reality on Friday, April 15th — our 60th and last legislative day.
Local road projects
I am pleased that the $4 million I secured for important road projects in District 67 have cleared the final hurdle and are included in the Transportation budget that was passed on Friday as well.
Beginning this fall, “Work Ready” will assist more than 3,200 Kentucky high school seniors work toward a two-year degree at any public college or university, or any independent not-for-profit college, with no tuition costs after state scholarships and federal grants are factored in. The budget includes $9.4 million in fiscal year 2017 and $15.9 million in fiscal year 2018 to launch the program that will include important safeguards for accountability, such as a requirement that students maintain a 2.5 grade point average and pay back funds from any semester that they drop out of their course work.
The budget continues its emphasis on public education by including $15 million over the biennium to expand a separate dual-credit program that allows high school students to earn college credit.
We also approved the governor’s request to borrow $100 million in bonds to fund workforce development projects across the Commonwealth, while setting provisions for the fund’s use — 10 percent will be allocated to projects within the 54-county Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR); one project will be granted to each of the four workforce regions in the state; and no more than 25 percent of funds can go into a single congressional district.
Much of our investment in the state was made possible by more than $908 million in new state revenue expected between now and the end of fiscal year 2018. The budget does include nine percent cuts to many state agencies at the governor’s request; he has promised no interruption in services, but the House Majority will be vigilant in its oversight of how these cuts will impact the Commonwealth.
Other budget highlights include:
• Kentucky State Parks will receive $5 million for life-safety projects to make repairs that could cause injury if not fixed.
• $2 million over the biennium will be used to build and improve local libraries.
• The budget includes $60 million for the Lexington Convention Center, which would be part of a $250 million expansion. The Louisville Waterfront Development, Northern Kentucky Waterfront Development, and Louisville Botanical Gardens will also receive additional funding.
• The Judicial Branch will have funding as the chief justice requested.
• Constitutional offices will be cut by 3.375 percent, as opposed to the nine percent cuts suggested by the governor and the Senate.
• Kentucky State Police trooper raises are funded.
• The budget provides more money for heroin and drug treatment.
• The budget calls for state mine-safety inspections to mirror the number of federal inspections, as the House proposed.
• The CASA program (Court Appointed Special Advocate) will receive $3 million to expand further statewide. CASA helps children in abuse and neglect cases.
• Kentucky Educational Television (KET) will not be cut.
• The budget does not limit prevailing wage.
Creating a budget of this size involved many hours of debate and discussion.
In the end, the final document reflects a lot of compromise and heartfelt concern expressed from all sides of the political equation.
Dennis Keene represents Campbell County in the 67th House District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181.
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