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Beshear completes 'unprecedented' budget release

Written by Mark Payne, LINKnky Media politics and government reporter 

Gov. Andy Beshear released the rest of his budget Thursday evening in front of a joint session of the House and Senate.

It served as a summary of the addresses he’s made throughout the past week, starting with his State of the Commonwealth Address on Jan. 6.

This budget unveiling has been unusual due to the House Republicans releasing their budget proposal on Jan. 7 in an effort to seemingly undermine the governor and showcase their power in both the House and Senate, where they hold supermajorities. They also have the ability to approve or reject the governor’s budget.

Usually, the governor releases his budget first.

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

In a seemingly strategic move to draw attention away from the House proposal, Beshear started releasing his budget piecemeal throughout the week. In keeping with his talking points in his State of the Commonwealth address, Beshear highlighted how well the state is doing while planning how he plans to spend to move the state forward.

“Governor Beshear’s budget reflects a long-term view of all Kentucky can be,” said Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport). “It’s an investment in early childhood development and our workforce and the kind of state-funded amenities (parks, community spaces) and upgrades (roads, infrastructure) that entice families to stay in and move to the commonwealth.”

Investments In education

Beshear proposed improving the education system with a $2 billion investment, the largest proposal in state history.

“We must meet this moment by ensuring we have a world-class education system to support our future workforce,” Beshear said. “Perhaps the most important step in ensuring we are never a flyover state ever again is investing in our teachers, schools, and students. We are the destination, but to stay a world-class destination for world-class companies, we must have a world-class workforce. And that starts with education.”

Among the important topics covered by the governor were universal pre-K education for students across the commonwealth. The program would also provide kindergarten, as will the House GOP budget. But, when it comes to universal pre-K, the House budget doesn’t cover it.

“I really love the universal pre-school for all 4-year-olds proposal, which is $172 million each year of the budget,” said Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington). “That kind of commitment to pre-school education enables many districts to also fund three-year-old pre-K.”

In addition to pre-K, kindergarten, and secondary school, Beshear’s budget includes a 12 percent increase for higher education, as there’s been a $250 million General Fund windfall for nine colleges across the state. One of those colleges is Northern Kentucky University, which will benefit by receiving capital project funding for the Hermann Science Center and renovating the Fine Arts Building.

“Higher education has become less and less attainable for too many Kentuckians,” Wheatley said. “The Governor’s 12 percent increase in post-secondary education funding and is not enough but puts us on a path to more college degrees. $500 million in new university capital projects will free up dollars that will help reduce tuition costs.”

Companion Brent Spence Bridge and life sciences lab In Covington

On Wednesday, the governor laid out his economic and infrastructure budget. Just as he did in his State of the Commonwealth address, Beshear outlined the significant economic improvements over the past year, despite the Covid-19 Pandemic and significant storms throughout the state.

“We have the responsibility and the resources to meet this moment,” Beshear said. “To be bold and to leapfrog other states. Not to tread water or punt on third down. With these dollars, my budget targets investments to create and attract the jobs of the future and works to align workforce readiness with business needs to ensure we can fill the high-quality jobs that are coming our way.”

In 2021, Kentucky added $11.2 billion in new investments and also added 18,000 jobs. In Northern Kentucky, the governor pledged a capital investment of $10 million to a new life sciences lab in Covington.

“My budget invests $10 million in the City of Covington to support the construction and outfitting of a shared research and development lab facility to serve the rapidly expanding life sciences sector in the region,” Beshear said.

Beshear mentioned a companion Brent Spence Bridge in his State of the Commonwealth and followed up with a pledge of $250 million from the General Fund for infrastructure projects, including the Brent Spence.

“We are using a one-time fund so we can push ahead our application to the Federal government on the Brent Spence bridge,” Beshear said, referring to the $250 million General Fund investment.

Healthcare Investments

The governor’s budget fully funds Medicaid in Kentucky, with nearly 33 percent of Kentuckians relying on the service, including nearly 660,000 children.

“Families across the commonwealth depend on Medicaid. It’s simply the right thing to do to fund this program and expand the services offered through it,” Beshear said. The budget seeks to also address the nursing shortage in Kentucky by giving $6 million per year to scholarships for potential nurses.

“His (Beshear) budget accomplishes all of this while being balanced and continuing to contribute to our record level rainy day fund,” Roberts said. “After years of pessimistic outlooks, this is the optimistic budget Kentuckians have been waiting for.”

The Republican Response

House Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect) and Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) gave a rebuttal after the governor’s address. Both noted that it’s hard to determine if there’s common ground between the House’s and Beshear’s budgets.

“It’s impossible to tell at this point,” Stivers said, noting it will take them the weekend to go through the governor’s budget.

Beshear only mentioned the House budget when comparing his five percent raise for state workers set to go into effect May 1. The House budget planned to give a 6 percent raise at a later date, but Beshear said he would raise his to six percent and move the date up to May 1. He didn’t mention the leapfrogging by the House budget.

“It’s great that the governor saw the benefits of many of our investments we made in our budget,” said Rep. Adam Koening (R-Erlanger). But, Koenig noted, it’s almost as if we were at a poker game. “Anything we (the House) did, he had to raise it up.”

This story has been updated to correct the party affiliation of Reps. Roberts and Wheatley. They are Democrats. LINK Media regrets the error.