On Tuesday, to mark the official kick-off of crafting Kentucky’s two year budget, Governor Matt Bevin presented his budget proposal to the Commonwealth and the General Assembly in a Joint Session. Kentuckians, along with members of the House and Senate, Cabinet Secretaries, and Supreme Court Justices, listened intently for what many feared would be one of the trimmest, most austere budgets in recent Kentucky history.
As has been widely reported, Kentucky’s public pensions are facing insolvency and posing a threat to funding for other areas of the budget. In a historic move, Governor Bevin’s key budget proposal is to fully fund the public pension system, setting aside more money than ever before to keep the commitment Kentucky has to teachers and public workers. Almost 15 percent of the state budget will go toward shoring up the worst funded pension system in the country, I am incredibly proud to support that obligation.
In lock-step with his commitment to fully fund pensions, Governor Bevin made it clear that we intend to strengthen K-12 education and ensure that our children do not pay for the sins of governments past. The Governor proposed to fully fund the SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) formula, maintaining the $3,981 per-student funding approved in 2016.
Adoption and foster care reform, as many of you know, has been a major focus of both the legislature and the executive branch. Governor Bevin’s budget will dedicate $10.8 million to help children who desperately need families. Another $24 million will go to the Department for Community Based Services in order to hire more social workers as well as increase their pay, along with supervisors.
Kentucky faces an opioid scourge second to no other state in the country, and the erosion to communities and families as a result is devastating. In his budget address, Governor Bevin proposed earmarking $34 million to combat Kentucky’s opioid epidemic, with a significant portion pledged to helping pregnant mothers who suffer from addiction.
In order to fully fund public pensions and K-12 education, some programs are going to see cuts and possible elimination in the Governor’s budget. However, instead of the predicted 13 percent cuts across the board, most agencies will see significantly lower cuts of approximately 6.5 percent. Like the majority of you, I am not happy about any budget cuts and program elimination, but to fix the pension crisis the options are very limited. In the face of cuts, I will pledge to proceed diligently and make thoughtful, well-informed decisions only after hearing from interested stakeholders – which are Kentuckians like you. Regarding the Governor failing to line item funds for retired teacher’s health care, it is important to note, the fund has a sustainable balance at present, that could cover the cost of retirees insurance over this two year biennium. Please remember, this is a process and the first step is the Governor’s proposal. Presently, nothing is set in stone.
Further, in his address, Governor Bevin discussed the need for comprehensive tax reform, including comprehensive modernization of our tax code to place Kentucky in a position to compete with surrounding states, for jobs and residents.
Recently, Kentucky was the first state to receive a waiver from the Trump administration in order to implement changes to the Kentucky HEALTH program. These changes will empower able-bodied working-age Kentuckians to make their own healthcare decisions, while retaining current Medicaid benefits for our most vulnerable citizens, including children, pregnant women and the disabled, among others.
Now that Kentucky has received Governor Bevin’s budget proposal, the House can get to work on formulating our own budget. During that process, some of the Governor’s proposals will be included, and some of them won’t. Our budget committees will continue to hear from stakeholders and will work together with the public to do what is best for the people of this Commonwealth to ensure that essential programs have the resources they need to function at full capacity. As the coming weeks unfold, please make your voice heard in the process for crafting the next two-year budget – after all, it is your state, your future, and your money.
There is no higher honor for me than to serve as your representative in Frankfort. As always, I welcome your comments and concerns on any issues impacting our Commonwealth, even while we are not in session. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or you can contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. As always, you can reach me on my personal cell@ 606-524-0227. Please leave a message, and I will return your call.