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KY Senate approves proposed biennial budget

By Nancy Royden, LRC

Frankfort, KY - The state's two-year budget plan is another step closer to passage after the Senate voted Wednesday to approve the amended bill and send it back to the House.

The proposed $105 billion proposal includes funds for state employee raises, school needs, a training range for police, more lung cancer screening, major renovations to the state Capitol, improvements to state parks and many other efforts.

This is the first time since 2018 that the Kentucky General Assembly is working to pass a biennium budget. Economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic led the legislature to pass two single-year budgets in 2020 and 2021.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, presented the bill on the Senate floor after it cleared the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee earlier in the day. He said when he joined the legislature in 2013, the state was facing a major financial crisis.

"Pensions had not been fully funded in over a decade, and the state was borrowing money like a drunken sailor at a Friday night poker game," he said.

McDaniel later compared that to this year's budget proposal, which includes more than $1.7 billion in the budget reserve trust fund and more than $1.2 billion in unspent money. He said that under the watchful eye of the Senate, the state has finally turned a financial corner.

"We've gone from zero savings, a pension system in the midst of crisis and regular cuts to nearly every facet of government, to a place where now we regularly invest in pediatric cancer, research at our systems of higher education, employee raises, infrastructure and many other items at record levels," he said.

The budget measure cleared the Senate with 30-6 vote and now heads back to the House. If lawmakers in the House do not concur with the Senate's changes, the two chambers would next appoint a conference committee to iron out differences.

McDaniel said the budget prioritizes helping people deal with inflation. It includes money for one-time tax rebates for Kentuckians and the first raises for most state employees in 15 years.

The raises amount to about $4,500 per employee in the first year with additional raises in the second year based on recommendations from the state personnel cabinet.

"We have lost and continue to lose some of the best and brightest talent in the commonwealth," McDaniel said. "Therefore, the No. 1 priority in this budget is improving the work environment for the commonwealth's state employees."

For the Kentucky State Police, the plan includes $15,000 per year set aside for each trooper pending a pay scale bill, which is currently in committee, McDaniel said.

He also pointed to school funding in the proposal. Over the past two years, the Kentucky Department of Education and the schools have received about $1.9 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money, McDaniel said.

"But we felt it was still important to push additional funds through the SEEK formula. So in year one, we increased it to $4,100 and in year two, we increased it to $4,200," he said.

McDaniel listed several other items in the proposed budget, including:

  • A $4,800 raise for social workers in the first year and an additional 10% raise in year two
  • A roughly 30% raise for state medical examiners along with 22 new positions in the office
  • Base funding for public universities and $97 million each year for the performance-based funding model for higher education
  • A $4 per day per diem increase for local jails
  • Full funding for a firing range at the Department of Criminal Justice Training. The budget would also set the stage for a new training academy in Madisonville with appropriations in the second year.
  • An increase in law enforcement training stipends to $4,300 per year
  • An allocation of $500,000 to audit the state's workforce initiatives
  • $5 million for child advocacy centers, $3.5 million for domestic violence centers, $1.5 million for rape crisis centers, and $1 million for substance abuse program review
  • $215 million in one-time funding to shore up the Kentucky State Police Retirement System
  • $250 million in year two for upgrades to the state parks system
  • $250 million in year two to renovate the state Capitol, which faces challenges with leaking, peeling paint, an old HVAC system and other problems
  • $200 million for renovation of the state fairgrounds
  • $25 million for county clerks for an online deed system and voting machines
  • A $75 million grant pool for nonprofits
  • A $200 million transportation project fund as requested by the governor
  • 200 new guard positions for the commonwealth's prisons
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he appreciated the time and effort that went into the proposed budget. However, he said much work remains to be done.

"This is not the final budget we are working on - it's the first step," he said. "But as we talk about process, I do want to talk about some of what happened with this budget. The reality is that we were not given a printed copy of the budget until this morning during committee at 9 a.m. Here we are on the floor this afternoon voting the document out the same day."

McGarvey said lawmakers in his caucus see things they like, but also have a number of questions and concerns. He said funding for the state's SEEK formula appears to be reduced and money for full-day kindergarten was removed from the House plan.

"We hope to continue to have input because for all of Kentucky, for all of the people represented, for all of the areas represented in this commonwealth, it's important that their input is heard in this budget, and we hope that it will be as it continues to go forward in a more transparent process," he said.

This story was posted on 2022-03-10 07:26:07
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