On Tuesday this week, Governor Andy Beshear will formally present his proposed budget to run state government for the next two years, setting in motion work that will dominate the General Assembly’s agenda until the legislative session ends in mid-April.
There are two things to keep in mind as this process moves forward. First, nearly 90 cents of every state tax dollar go to just three broad but critical areas: education; criminal justice; and health and human service programs like Medicaid. Second, revenue growth for the next two years is projected to be the lowest Kentucky has seen since the current budget-forecasting system began in the mid-1990s.
This presents a sizable challenge, especially in the wake of more than a decade of budget cuts. Still, Governor Beshear indicated last Thursday that he was optimistic about what could be done.
In education, for example, he will recommend raises for teachers and to at least maintain spending for our public postsecondary schools. With nearly every other state investing more in their colleges and universities, it is important that Kentucky does what it can to make these institutions more accessible and affordable.
In healthcare, Governor Beshear’s budget will support his executive order last month to keep the Medicaid expansion available to all who meet federal income requirements, and he said his administration would strive to enroll more Medicaid-eligible children.
One area of government where he hopes money can be saved is in the criminal-justice system. At a press conference a little more than a week ago, he called on legislators to give serious consideration to reforms that would address two pressing problems: A prison population that has grown 40 % since 2004, and the loss of more than 1,200 medium-security beds since 2016 because of crumbling infrastructure.
To underscore what sensible reforms could mean, he said the additional $115 million that corrections needs in the upcoming budget would, when leveraged with local resources, be enough to effectively make preschool and kindergarten available to every young child.
Once the General Assembly has the budget, the House will have the first chance to make changes, and then the Senate. When the final version is sent back to the governor, he can accept or reject all of it, or line-item veto portions he disagrees with. The General Assembly does have authority to override any veto, which is what we saw happen when the current budget was enacted.
As that budget work gets underway, the House has been busy moving several other bills forward that have broad, bipartisan support. Those sent to the Senate last week would:
• Strengthen the rights of foster parents in cases involving the involuntary termination of parental rights;
• Establish the Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program, which would provide training to help better recognize symptoms of a mental health or substance abuse disorder or crisis; and
• Make the state’s official pet any domestic dog and cat that is being cared by or has been adopted from animal shelters or rescue organizations. This idea came from 7-year-old Franklin County boy, who hoped this new designation would encourage more people to adopt these animals.
Just as legislative sessions are busy for those of us who serve in the House and Senate, they also fill the Capitol and nearby Annex with citizens from across the commonwealth. Last week, we welcomed those attending the first-ever Muslim Day at the Capitol, and we also celebrated Children’s Advocacy Day, an annual event that highlights the needs of Kentucky’s most important resource.
I’ve met many constituents as well this legislative session, and I look forward to meeting many more in the time we have left to pass new laws.
Even if you can’t make it to Frankfort, there are many ways to stay informed and involved. The General Assembly’s website is a good place to start, since it has the text of every bill and resolution. It can be found online at Legislature.Ky.Gov.
KET broadcasts committee meetings and floor debate in the House and Senate, and those videos are archived so they can be viewed at any time.
You can always reach me by email at Wilson.Stone@lrc.ky.gov, and you can leave a phone message for me or any legislator by calling 1-800-372-7181. That toll-free line is open each weekday through the year and has longer hours when the legislature is meeting.