(The Center Square) – Rather than wait for Gov. Andy Beshear to give his budget address next week, Republicans in the Kentucky House of Representatives unveiled late last week their proposed spending plan for the next two years.
The move was swiftly condemned by House Democrats as a “petty” move.
A statement by GOP House leaders said the bill calls for more than $31 billion in spending for each of the next two fiscal years, including $13.9 billion in general fund monies.
House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, said lawmakers have been working on the budget proposal since last spring.
The plan considers legislative priorities while also factoring in “realities our state faces,” he said.
The budget proposal includes increasing funding for public school districts and doubling the state’s funding for all-day kindergarten, which sponsors say will now cover the full cost of the program.
The funding for schools will help districts cover raises, Petrie said.
“This budget proposal includes another record-high commitment to per-pupil funding, allocates considerable funding for transportation costs, and doubles kindergarten funding to pay for the entire day,” Petrie added. “We chose to allocate resources to local districts and allow them to create their own plans for raises since many have already used other sources of revenue to do so.”
On Monday, Beshear introduced a number of education initiatives he’s proposing in his budget and said he plans to hold similar briefings leading up to his address.
He called his spending proposal a bold plan that builds on the momentum of recent job announcements that have taken place across the state. It’s needed to build on the transformation from a “flyover state” that Kentucky’s currently undergoing.
“There is no question that we have arrived, but having arrived, we have to make the investments necessary to stay,” the governor said. “To stay a world-class destination for world-class companies, we must have a world-class workforce, and that starts with education.”
One education item Beshear said his proposal calls for that was not in the House plan is funding to fully implement pre-K classes statewide.
Another difference between the two proposals is in higher education, where Beshear wants to issue $1 billion in general fund bonds for 19 projects at state universities and postsecondary institutions.
Republican lawmakers included $50 million in additional funding in both years to the state’s public universities. That money will be awarded through a performance-based model.
The budget proposal comes during what has been a contentious first week in the House. Democrats, who were already upset at the Republican redistricting plan, protested a move to limit debate and floor discussions.
In a statement Friday, House Democratic Floor Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, and Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said the GOP move broke “long-standing traditions and the spirit of the budget law.”
“We may as well wrap up the 2022 legislative session now because all of the major decisions apparently have been made,” the Democratic leaders said. “This is not good government; in fact, it’s barely government at all.”
The governor’s budget address is scheduled for Thursday evening.
Beshear, a Democrat, had hinted at some of his budget proposal items during Wednesday night’s State of the Commonwealth address to lawmakers. He also had announced some initiatives in recent weeks, such as raises for state workers and additional hires in key social service positions.
The governor on Monday said he had planned to brief legislative leaders this Thursday before his address, but that changed after the House bill was filed. He said it might have been a “stunt” designed to deflect from his address.
Beshear said he was disappointed legislators did not talk with him or his staff about the executive branch budget before the bill was filed and noted Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers’ remarks last week about the lack of communication between the administration and the legislature.
“My hope is that we can do that moving forward,” the governor said.
However, one GOP lawmaker on Monday said the administration had the opportunity to engage with lawmakers during the interim committee meetings last year.
State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said on Twitter he was involved in numerous Appropriations and Revenue subcommittee sessions last year where lawmakers asked for information and never received anything.
“That is literally seeking the input of the executive branch,” Koenig tweeted. “When you are withholding information, you are thwarting the process for political gain.”
Koenig called the process of the governor introducing the budget a remnant of “a bygone era.” Governors no longer yield that much power over the General Assembly, he said.
“Thankfully, those days are gone, and the people’s branch is fulfilling its duties,” Koenig said.
The GOP budget proposal calls for a 6% raise for all public employees for the 2022-23 fiscal year. It also calls on the state’s personnel secretary to devise a plan to change the worker classification and compensation model for the 23-24 fiscal year.
Kentucky State Police troopers would receive a $15,000 pay raise, while KSP telecommunicators would get an $8,000 hike.
State pension plans would also be fully funded.
Beshear, who gave current social workers a 10% raise last month, said at that time that he wanted to hire another 350 over the next two years. The House plan calls for the hiring of 200 new workers.
It also contains $86.7 million for salary raises and retention bonuses for social workers over the two budget years.
The budget also includes provisions for spending federal COVID relief and infrastructure funding. House leaders said their plan is not to use those one-time funds for recurring initiatives.
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, called it a “responsible” budget proposal.
“We are in a strong financial position, but our economy is still in a precarious position,” he said. “I know there are those calling for us to spend federal dollars as fast as we receive them, but you can’t spend the same dollar twice – we have to get it right the first time.”