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Dueling Budgets Announced in Frankfort as Beshear, House GOP Roll Out Plans

Written by Mark Payne, LINK Media politics & government reporter

With the redistricting bills passing the House and Senate over the weekend, the fight now moves on to the budget. In an unprecedented move, House Republicans released their budget on Jan. 7, ahead of the governor’s budget that’s set to be presented in a speech on Jan. 13. 

Beshear released details of his proposed budget on Monday.

This is the first time in the history of the state that the House has released its budget ahead of the governor, and, according to Beshear, it’s an attempt by the Republicans to control the budget process. 

“It shouldn’t be about power and control; it should be about our people,” Beshear said. He said that legislators talked about “Democrats used to do this and Republicans used to do that, but no one has ever done this.”

“Drafting and filing an executive branch budget, without the knowledge or input of the executive branch itself, is unprecedented,” Beshear said. “It’s unprovoked, it’s unprofessional, unwise, and perhaps even unlawful.” 

The House budget plans to allocate more than $51 billion in state and federal money. The legislation would include three separate bills that provide funding for the judicial and executive branches and the transportation spending plan. House Bill 1, the executive branch budget, puts over $31 billion into each fiscal year. General fund dollars account for $13.9 billion of the budget.

“For far too long, Kentucky state government has looked at the budget as an opportunity to win votes and curry favor,” said Rep. Brandon Reed (R-Hodgenville ), the Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. “That hasn’t been our approach, and it certainly is not with this budget.”

In response to the House’s budget proposal, Beshear shuffled around the announcement of aspects of his budget in order to counteract the House Republicans’ strategy and inform the public of his own proposal. Beshear highlighted several areas where his own budget would outperform the House budget, according to his office. In Beshear’s budget, public school employees would receive a five percent pay raise, as well as the potential for student loan forgiveness. Colleges and universities would receive a 12 percent increase in funds. 

Also in Beshear’s budget is Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding, where Beshear announced a 16.9 percent increase, which is $685 million more than the House budget over two years. The House Republican plan seeks to increase the “base SEEK guarantee” of $4,100 in the first fiscal year and $4,200 in the second. For every dollar that SEEK increased under the Republican plan, it would lead to an additional $800,000 investment in public school districts. The base figures in Beshear’s plan would be $4,300 per student in 2023 and $4,500 per student in 2024. 

In addition to SEEK funding, $6.2 million would be set aside to help schools make mental health investments through statewide Social Emotional Learning institutes that give access to training for educators. Two other grant programs provide services for students suffering from issues caused by substance abuse, violence, child abuse, and parental incarceration.

“We cannot ignore the social, emotional, and mental health needs of our students,” Beshear said. 

Another considerable area under Beshear’s plan is the announcement of universal pre-school for all four-year-olds across the state. This is roughly $172 million each year. While the Republicans’ plan doesn’t include pre-school, it does offer full funding for kindergarten over the course of the next two years.

“The governor’s pro-education budget shows a real commitment to investing in our public schools and our kids,” said Rep. Rachel Roberts (R-Newport) said. “I’m especially heartened to see funding for universal pre-k and what this could do for working families throughout the commonwealth.” 

Republicans and Democrats Seem To Agree on Disaster Funding

In what is sure to be a challenging week for both Republicans and Democrats over the budget, the House Standing Committee on Appropriations and Revenue met to discuss House Bill 5 which strictly deals with disaster recovery and relief. The bill is a companion to SB5. If there’s one thing that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on, it’s funding for those affected by the flooding and tornadoes that ravaged Kentuckians last year. 

In the House Republicans disaster recovery bill, they want to spend $200 million, including money for educational services and temporary housing. The funds would be made available via the West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) Fund. Thirty million in funds will be made available to after school services, 

“There is not one single person here whose life is the same after the tornado,” said Richard Heath (R-Mayfield ). “This is about supporting relief efforts for those who saw the destruction firsthand and lost everything.”

Beshear addressed the disaster in his State of the Commonwealth address on Jan. 6., saying that he was working with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to bring $150 million to affected communities while providing another $50 million to help schools in the affected areas. 

“I want every family and community touched by these storms to know that I am with you, the General Assembly is with you, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky is with you, today, tomorrow, and however long it takes,” Beshear said. 

Photo via the Office of Governor Andy Beshear