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Kentucky House Republicans unveil state spending plan

March 6, 2020 GMT
Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne, left, discusses the House Republican state budget plan, Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky. House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Steven Rudy, right, also briefed reporters on the plan that cleared a House committee and could receive a vote in the full House on Friday. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)
Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne, left, discusses the House Republican state budget plan, Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky. House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Steven Rudy, right, also briefed reporters on the plan that cleared a House committee and could receive a vote in the full House on Friday. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — House Republicans modified the Democratic governor’s proposed pay raise for teachers to spread it to other school employees and boosted school-security funding, putting their mark on a two-state state spending plan that cleared a committee on Thursday.

The measure won approval from the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and is expected to receive a vote in the full House on Friday. As is customary, the House proposal made changes to the two-year spending blueprint submitted by the governor in January.

“I think we’ve got a document that moves Kentucky forward,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Steven Rudy, told reporters. “I wanted to get through without another round of devastating cuts to our state agencies, and we were able to do so.”

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Gov. Andy Beshear proposed a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers, fulfilling a key campaign pledge from last year. It would amount to a 3.7% raise for the average teacher making $53,923 in 2019. The governor says the salary boost is needed to overcome a shortage of teachers.

The House GOP version would provide a 1% pay increase in each year of the biennium for teachers but spread it to other school employees. including office staff, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

“We tried to give raises as fairly across the board as we possibly could,” Rudy said. “He went at it a little different than we did, and we just felt that this was probably a more appropriate way.”

Beshear’s office didn’t immediately comment on the House GOP plan Thursday night.

All state employees also would be in line for 1% pay raises in each year of the biennium under the House GOP plan, with a few exceptions.

The House Republican version goes beyond the governor’s proposal for school-safety funding. The House plan would provide nearly $49 million over two years to hire an additional 400 school counselors. Bolstering the number of school counselors reflects the commitment of lawmakers to protect children, House Speaker David Osborne said.

Both versions also proposed more than $18 million to finance school building upgrades.

The funding is a followup to last year’s school safety law, which was in response to the January 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. Two students were killed and more than a dozen others were injured.

The House spending plan would scale back Beshear’s proposal to hire more social workers.

House Republicans set aside funding to hire 100 additional social workers in child protective services over the two-year period. Beshear proposed adding 350 social workers to reduce caseloads and to combat the state’s high rates of child abuse and neglect. House Republicans also proposed offering 5% pay raises as an incentive as the state struggles to hire and retain more social workers in child protective services.

The state’s chronically underfunded public pension systems have overshadowed the development of state budgets in recent years. The House GOP plan would fully fund the state’s pension contributions in both years. The proposal is significantly more generous for the teacher retirement system than what lawmakers are required to do, Rudy said.

“That continues to eat up more and more of the General Fund,” he said.

House Republicans also proposed withholding about $35 million in each of the next two years from KentuckyWired, the troubled project to expand broadband throughout rural Kentucky. Osborne said he thinks the project would continue. Rudy noted it has other funding sources.

Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton raised concerns about withdrawing the KentuckyWired funding, telling reporters it “might put us in breach of contract.”

The House GOP spending plan is based on limited new revenues. Their only new revenue source would come from a bill that would raise nearly $50 million over the next two years with new taxes on vaping and tobacco products.

The plan didn’t factor in potential revenue from a stalled bill to legalize sports wagering.

“We didn’t contemplate any new revenue that has not already passed the House,” Osborne said.

Sports betting would create an estimated $22 million to $25 million in yearly revenue, its supporters have said. The bill is still under consideration in the House, Osborne said Thursday.

Once the House passes its version of the budget, it will go to the GOP-dominated Senate, which will put its on imprint on the spending plan. The differences will likely be ironed out in a conference committee of legislative leaders. Republican leaders have said they want to finish work in time to consider any vetoes by the governor.