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Democrats call for more spending as Ky. House approves GOP budget

Ky. GOP House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Jason Petrie, of Elkton, explains the details of House Bill 6, the proposed executive branch budget, on the House floor Thursday.
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LRC Public Information
Ky. GOP House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Jason Petrie, of Elkton, explains the details of House Bill 6, the proposed executive branch budget, on the House floor Thursday Feb. 1, 2024.

The state House has passed the GOP-led budget, laying out nearly $29 billion of the General Fund and $1.7 billion from Kentucky’s budget reserve trust fund for the next two fiscal years. Democrats argued, in over nearly four hours of floor debate, that the budget doesn’t go far enough.

The Kentucky Republican budget pushed through the House Thursday would increase per-student funding, pay down pension deficits and increase one-time infrastructure spending.

Democrats on the House floor said that with a record budget surplus, Republicans could do better than a continuation budget, calling for significant funding boosts in key areas like education.

The Republican chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue committee said the budget passed Thursday looks beyond the next two years, and creates a fiscally responsible plan for the state.

“Unlike in some years past, if you exist and you're doing something, then you get that funding plus you ask for more. It's just not the way we're approaching budgeting,” Rep. Jason Petrie of Elkton said, “There has to be a case stated for whether this continues or whether it gets increased funding.”

Less than 24 hours after several budget bills moved through a specially-called committee meeting, the Kentucky House of Representatives voted to approve House Bills 1 and 6, one of the first steps in a lengthy process to craft the state’s budget for the next two fiscal years.

Full substitutes of the budget bills, whose original forms were filed on Jan. 16, were not publicly available online by the time of the House convened Thursday.

The Republican-led budget increases the per-pupil SEEK funding formula for public schools, spends an additional $1.5 billion to pay down unfunded liabilities of the public pension system and create thousands of additional Medicaid waiver slots. In the amended version of the bill, school transportation was fully funded in the second year and also returns funding for certain “priority” vacant positions that were initially cut.

But Democrats argued Thursday that the state has the resources to fund far more in Kentucky. Rep. Josie Raymond from Louisville said that, while the second of the two budget bills does utilize $1.7 billion from the trust fund in one-time expenses, some projections show the fund will more than replenish itself over the next two years.

“Our state is making a financial blunder by stockpiling billions of dollars when Kentuckians still have needs,” Raymond said. “Yes, we should have a healthy reserve fund, and you heard we do.”

The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy estimated that, under the House plan, the rainy day fund would grow from $3.7 billion to approximately $5.2 billion by the end of the two-year budget cycle under the House plan, even with the one-time expenditures.

Raymond and other Democrats called for 11% school personnel raises, increases in child care funding, cost-of-living increases for state pensioners and more dollars infrastructure upgrades across the state, to name a few.

Despite these concerns and several attempts at floor amendments, both primary budget bills passed untouched on party lines. Three Republicans voted against the bill — Northern Kentucky Republican Reps. Steven Doan, Savannah Maddox and Felicia Rabourn.

Rabourn tweeted after the vote that she felt she needed to vote “no” because it went too far in certain spending categories — a stark contrast to Democratic concerns.

“While this budget had alot [sic] of good in it, there were things I could not support,” Rabourn tweeted. “This bill increased state spending on child care by $52 million. This is not the proper role of government.”

On the other hand, three Democrats voted in favor of the bill, despite all three raising concerns during Floor discussion. Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty from Martin, who did eventually vote yes on the bill, said she had hoped the bill would provide significant teacher and school personnel raises.

“I keep hearing today that this is just the beginning. So let's try and take a bigger bite of this apple,” Tackett Laferty said. “Worst of all, I fear we're failing my children and your children and the children of our constituents across the state.”

After the bill passed, Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher from Louisville said he applauded the budget’s restrictive approach.

“Our friends on the other side that have been talking all day have no idea on how to operate a responsible budget,” Bratcher said. “They just say spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, and that's dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. Responsible government means that you have to prepare for the bad days, not just spend it on what feels good today.”

Now that the bill has gained House approval, it will be transmitted to the Senate. There, lawmakers will likely pass their own version of the budget. Assuming the budgets passed are not identical, the two bodies will send a delegation to a conference committee where they’ll agree on a final version to submit for Gov. Andy Beshear’s approval.

Because a substitute version of both bills received a vote on the House floor with less than a day’s notice, no floor amendments to the bill were considered “in order” under House rules.

Democratic Reps. Rachel Roarx, Pam Stevenson, Tina Bojanowski, Tackett Laferty and Chad Aull each attempted motions to suspend the rules to have their amendments considered. All of them failed, meaning there wasn’t even a vote on the amendments themselves.

Rep. Al Gentry, a Democrat from Louisville, said he filed an amendment to make sure the revenues from sports wagering would go directly to paying down pension liability. But he decided not to, saying he already knew what the outcome would be.

“I have an amendment here that would address that, but I’m not going to call it because I’m a Democrat and I know what’s going to happen,” Gentry said. “I’ve been here long enough, and I’m not going to waste anybody’s time.”

Democratic Rep. Lindsey Burke from Lexington said she too was disappointed with the process. Burke said she was concerned the special committee meeting the day before hadn’t followed open meeting laws, which open records advocates say require at least 24-hours public notice.

Burke said she was concerned that the budget did not contain any investments to the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and since the budget process moved swiftly in the House, she did not have enough time to advocate for its inclusion.

“We're here doing the most important business of the Commonwealth of Kentucky without playing by our own rules that we created. And you know who's going to suffer? Homeless and housing insecure Kentuckians,” Burke said. “Today, I express my frustration on behalf of all housing insecure Kentuckians because we sure didn't do them a favor with this budget. And until we fix it, I just don't know what to do.”

LPM's state government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.
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