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The Commonwealth

Beshear unveils sweeping budget, GOP to move fast on their plans

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Stu Johnson
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Governor Beshear Prepares To Offer His Remarks To Kentucky Lawmakers

Gov. Andy Beshear delivered his budget address Thursday night, laying out a series of spending priorities like universal pre-K, raises for state workers and a boost in funding for higher education, which is still reeling from more than a decade of cuts.

The governor had already unveiled many of his proposals over the last week after House Republicans broke tradition and released their spending plan early.

But still, the governor used the televised address to make the case for a sweeping two-year budget plan that would take advantage of windfalls from a historic budget surplus and federal relief dollars.

“Now is when we must make the bold investments. Now is our chance to move this state forward—not right, not left but forward,” Beshear said.

Beshear’s plan aligns with some of the priorities laid out by House Republicans—a 6% raise for state workers, $15,000 per year raises for state troopers and funds to attract and retain social workers and nurses.

But the governor’s plan goes further, including funding for universal preschool and kindergarten, $200 million for state parks improvements and a 12% increase to each of the state’s nine public colleges and universities, the largest increase in years after major cuts following the Great Recession.

You can see an executive summary of the governor’s proposal here.

Republicans will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to writing the budget. With large majorities in both chambers of the legislature, GOP lawmakers don’t have to worry about having their plans vetoed by the governor. They can easily override him.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, expressed skepticism about Beshear’s plan during an interview on KET after the speech.

“It sounds good, it looks good, but it sounds like you’ll put a chicken in every pot. We don’t know how we’re going to pay for all those chickens,” Stivers said.

Kentucky is predicted to have a multibillion-dollar surplus at the end of the fiscal year, a large chunk of the $12 billion annual budget. The state is also slated to receive another $1.1 billion in coronavirus relief money this spring and billions of dollars from the federal infrastructure bill.

House Speaker David Osborne said lawmakers will move quickly on the budget and promised to give the governor’s plan “every consideration.”

“We’re going to be on the most aggressive timeline in modern history on this budget. I see nothing that will keep us from accomplishing that,” Osborne said.

Osborne said the House budget bill could pass the chamber as early as next week. The Senate will also eventually release its own budget plan. Lawmakers will likely finalize the spending plan during a conference committee with members from both the House and Senate.

Weku's Stu Johnson filed this report:

Governor Beshear told state lawmakers Thursday night his budget proposal is fiscally responsible while also investing in people. Salary increases are viewed by some as a key investment.

The governor is suggesting a number of pay raises. That includes a minimum 5% salary hike for all public school personnel and endorsing a 6% pay increase for all state employees in May. In public safety, Beshear proposes an immediate $15,000 pay boost for State Police sworn officers and troopers. KSP Commissioner Phillip Burnett Junior says that’s significant. “That is. That would make us competitive with other agencies within Kentucky as well as surrounding state agencies that border Kentucky,” said Burnett.

Breaking from state capitol tradition, House GOP leaders filed their own budget bill late last week, ahead of the governor’s recommendations. Although different in many areas, the House Republican budget also calls for a $15,000 pay hike for troopers and mirrors the governor’s call for an $8000 boost in pay for telecommunicators.

The president of the State Council on Postsecondary Education sees higher education benefitting greatly in this General Assembly session. Governor Beshear laid out his proposals in all kinds of areas including higher ed where funding would increase nearly 12% over the biennium. CPE President Aaron Thompson would like to see some of both proposals. “The House put forth a budget that I thought was very reasonable and we hope to get a little bit more of what the governor proposed in the House budget, no doubt. But, the idea that this higher ed, for so many years did not get funding, but got cut,” said Thompson.

While much of the governor’s address to lawmakers focused on a variety of state programs, there are also benefits to localities. Frankfort Mayor Lane Wilkerson said higher pay for state workers, many in his community, can help offset occupational tax challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic.

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