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Op-Ed: Beshear's Budget Moves Kentucky Forward

The following op-ed is written by Kentucky Department of Local Government Commissioner Dennis Keene.

In my previous roles at Southbank Partners and as the 67th district representative, my mission was to fight for economic development and growth for Northern Kentucky. Now, as the commissioner for the Department for Local Government (DLG) I am broadening that purpose by collaborating with local officials across the commonwealth to improve every community. 

So far, I am encouraged by Gov. Andy Beshear’s promise to better the lives of Kentuckians and bring prosperity where we desperately need it. His budget proposal, which works to reverse the effects of 14 years of painful cuts, is indicative of this commitment. His plan will improve public education, health care, transportation and will expand resources for local governments. 

Budget cuts by previous administrations had unintended consequences that plagued our communities. Conversely, Gov. Beshear’s budget is the first since the 2006-2008 biennium with no cuts to the general fund and it is balanced, responsible and puts education first. 

Gov. Beshear demonstrated his commitment to public schools, teachers and the education of our children by increasing education spending by $400 million in the next biennium. 

Fulfilling his promise to teachers and public employees, Gov. Beshear’s proposal provides teachers with a much needed, one-time $2,000 pay increase, reinstates the teacher loan forgiveness program, gives public employees a 1% raise each year and fully funds the pension systems for both groups, putting in more than $670 million in extra funding. Gov. Beshear is rewarding our teachers and public employees for their continued dedication to move our state forward. 

Our universities and community colleges are critically important to our communities and the future of our children. Making this budget truly education first, Gov. Beshear also recommends investing in post-secondary education by providing a 1% increase for all institutions, $200 million dollars in bonds for the Resurgence Fund for university maintenance and approves all requested agency bonds for NKU, other universities and community and technical colleges. 

Gov. Beshear’s plan also relieves financial burdens on our colleges and universities. For example, the previous increase in employer contribution rates for pensions created a huge challenge for our regional universities and technical colleges. At NKU, this change was expected to increase pension contributions by nearly $10 million per year. To eliminate this financial burden and ensure pensions are paid, Gov. Beshear’s budget includes $18.7 million for pension funding relief for regional universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. 

Beyond education, this budget focuses on health care and keeping Kentuckians safe. To ensure health care access for more Kentuckians, the proposal fully funds Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion, an investment that will help patients and providers across the state, including at St. Elizabeth. 

Kentucky’s rural roads are the seventh most dangerous in the country. To improve safety, Gov. Beshear’s budget includes a record $100 million to make our roads safer for all Kentuckians. 

Working with local governments, Gov. Beshear’s budget prioritizes fairness and economic opportunity. His plan includes $1 million for local governments to conduct equal pay audits, following through on his commitment to equal pay for equal work. His proposal also returns nearly $20 million in coal severance tax revenue for the first time since the inception of the tax. Through these initiatives, our team at DLG is excited to promote fairness and economic opportunity for our communities who need it most. 

I am excited about this budget and believe it will relieve the pain of 14 years of harmful cuts and will bring prosperity to those who need it most. 

It was an honor to serve Northern Kentucky in my previous role and it was great to be back in Northern Kentucky last week to announce $500,000 in grants to update parks in the cities of Bromley, Covington, Dayton and Wilder. 

I look forward to this new chapter of strategizing with leaders across the state to improve our communities. 

Just know this budget and our actions to help communities are done with every Kentuckian in mind because we are one team, Team Kentucky.