Kentucky lawmakers pass a scaled-back budget amid pandemic
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers passed a slimmed-down, one-year state budget Wednesday without pay raises for school teachers or increased education funding — priorities that fell victim to the dramatic economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The budget sent to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear gained bipartisan support in clearing the GOP-led House and Senate as lawmakers reconvened after a nearly weeklong break to finish budget work. But it upends the new governor’s ability to capitalize on momentum from his election win in November, with good reviews from both parties for his handling of the health crisis overridden by the realities of a suddenly stalled economy.
The new spending plan reflects state tax collections that are expected to plummet, with many businesses across the state shuttered in an effort to slow the virus’s spread. Layoffs have caused filings for unemployment benefits to skyrocket.
“We have no way to know how far this recession is going to go, how deep it will truly be and what it will mean to the coffers here in Frankfort,” House budget committee Chairman Steven Rudy said.
Summing up the difficulty of crafting a budget amid so many public health and economic uncertainties, Senate President Robert Stivers said: “We’re taking a shot in the dark.”
Kentucky lawmakers traditionally pass a two-year budget. But the health crisis led them to opt for a one-year spending plan, which will require them to pass another one-year budget next year.
The new one-year spending plan will take effect July 1.
Missing from the new budget are Beshear’s proposals to significantly increase state funding for education and to give pay raises to teachers and state employees. Beshear’s call for a $2,000 pay boost for teachers was a centerpiece of his campaign when he ousted the Republican incumbent.
In the House, lawmakers also were upbeat just weeks ago about passing a budget that would include additional spending on priorities, Rudy said.
But those prospects were dashed after the pandemic hit.
The budget headed to Beshear’s desk maintains the current level of per-pupil funding under SEEK, the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools. The governor proposed increased SEEK funding, as did the versions passed by the House and Senate.
The final spending plan provides no pay raises for teachers or state employees. It continues most spending at current levels but allows cuts as necessary depending on revenue trends.
It fully funds required contributions for public pension systems. It features another one-year freeze on contribution rates for regional universities and community social services agencies that faced sharply higher pension costs. Funding is included to cushion the agencies from those higher costs.
Some Democratic lawmakers faulted the GOP-led legislature for failing to pass revenue-generating measures, such as casino gambling or sports gaming.
And several lawmakers expressed hope that an economic recovery will be under way by the 2021 session, and that they will have more revenues to spend on the state’s needs.
“It’s my hope and prayer that in a few months when we get control of this coronavirus and our businesses come back and our workers get back to work, that next session we can have funds to actually do what needs to be done,” said Republican Sen. C.B. Embry Jr.
Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene on April 13, when they will take up any gubernatorial vetoes and other matters left in this year’s session.