BeshearFRANKFORT, Ky. (1/29/20) —  Gov. Andy Beshear outlined his first budget to lawmakers Tuesday prioritizing education, health care and protecting children, according to a press release from the governor's office.

“It is a budget that not only ends years of painful cuts, it also makes a major investment in public education, fully funds expanded Medicaid, makes a historic investment in protecting our children, directs dollars to breaking cycles of poverty, and I believe will move us forward as a people,” Beshear said during the budget address Tuesday night at the Kentucky Capitol.

Beshear proposed a balanced “Education First” budget for 2020-22 including a $2,000 raise for teachers, 1 percent SEEK per pupil funding increase providing an additional $87.5 million for public schools, $11 million each year for new textbooks, $18.2 million for school security upgrades.

“There are finally dollars to start reinvesting in our families,” Beshear said. “Let me be clear, these dollars are limited, and they won’t undo the pain of the last 14 years all at once. So we must invest wisely and we must lead with our values. To me, those values must begin with public education. And that is exactly where this education first budget starts: Public education is the key to breaking cycles of poverty.”

The governor’s proposed budget includes funding for an additional 350 social workers, $5 million each year for preschool programs in disadvantaged areas, and $1 million each year, which would leverage millions more in federal funds, to enroll more children in the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program.

“Health care is a basic human right and it is our responsibility to sign every Kentucky child up for some form of health coverage,” he said.

State Budget Director John Hicks, who has worked on 16 budgets for eight Kentucky governors of both parties, said the budget is responsible, balanced and transparent. The proposal accounts for every dollar.

The Consensus Forecasting Group, a panel of budget experts and economists, estimates the state having an additional $841.7 million in tax revenue for the biennium.

Gov. Beshear’s budget proposal includes $147.7 million in new revenue, with those funds coming from sports betting, a tax increase on cigarettes and other tobacco, a new tax on vaping, and an increase in the minimum for the limited liability entity tax to adjust it for inflation.

Beshear’s proposed budget increases education spending by $400 million in the next biennium.

“We face a teacher shortage that threatens the quality of our public education in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “Without good teachers, we cannot produce the best students or the best workforce. So our budget prioritizes our teachers.” The spending prioritizes teachers with a one-time $2,000 raise for all full-time teachers, reinstates the teacher loan forgiveness program and teacher’s scholarship program, and recommends funding the full actuarial health insurance contribution for retired teachers.

The governor pointed out 15 states have given their teachers raises in the last two years, several led by Republican governors including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho and Mississippi.

Beshear’s plan would appropriate $18.2 million in school security upgrades to fund the first step in the school safety bill lawmakers passed in 2019. The amount equals the full funding the Kentucky School Board Association said is needed for statewide physical security improvements in public schools.

“For our students to learn, we must also provide school facilities that are safe and protect our students,” Gov. Beshear said.

While the budget invests heavily in K-12 education, the governor said for the budget to be truly education first the state must also invest in post-secondary education. Following cuts to higher education in 12 of the last 13 years, the proposed budget ends the repeated slashing of post-secondary funding and begins building back with a 1 percent increase for all institutions.

“In this budget, we’re ending the cuts to our public universities and community college system,” Beshear said. “These cuts have been painful, and have led to consistent tuition increases for our students. And we are just one of two states in the entire country that hasn’t reinvested in higher ed. That should end tonight.”

Beshear’s proposal includes fully funded Medicaid and Medicaid expansion. He said the state will work to sign up every eligible Kentuckian.

“Next is another area where we can’t afford to cut – health care. That’s because our people have some of the worst health outcomes in the country – we’re in the top 10 in lung cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” the governor said. “Access to health care is a basic human right and we can’t turn our backs on the progress that we’ve made.”

With Kentucky often ranked as the worst state for child abuse, Beshear’s budget boosts funding to Child Protective Services to increase the number of social workers by 27 precent, from 1,309 to 1,659, to reduce the average caseload of 19 per social worker. 

“This budget also makes historic investments into our most vulnerable — our children and our struggling families,” Beshear said. “That starts with addressing the rampant abuse and neglect of our children in the Commonwealth. And I want to address it now. Our social workers have too many cases and that has dire consequences. Abuse is not caught, kids fall through the cracks, dedicated public servants burn out. … Let’s act right here and right now to stop child abuse and neglect in Kentucky. ”

Beshear also designated funding to preserve child support enforcement, including an additional $13 million over two years.

“Since 2006, we have seen deep, difficult and historic cuts in our state budgets. Those cuts were not simply numbers on a spreadsheet. They were lost services, lost opportunities, even lost lives. They were a lack of support to repair broken lives,” Beshear said. “They meant our kids learned from outdated textbooks, our families drove on unsafe roads, our social workers were assigned far too many cases, and many of our teachers left the classroom. The last 14 years of cuts didn’t just ‘cut the fat,’ they went deep in the bone, year after year after year. Tonight, I am proud to report that I am submitting a budget that ends these 14 years of painful cuts.”

Beshear is proposing to fully fund pensions and give state employees a 1 percent raise each year.

Local and state law enforcement would receive a $600 stipend increase, increasing the stipend from the Kentucky Law Enforcement and Firefighters Foundation Program to $4,600 for more than 8,000 law enforcement officers and more than 3,800 firefighters.

Kentucky state troopers also will receive salary increases aimed at retaining state police with the governor recommending $5.3 million in the 2021 fiscal year and $8.6 million in 2022.

To help expand health care in the state, Beshear included the requested funding from the University of Louisville for a $35 million loan to acquire struggling health care facilities in Louisville. Beshear also directs about $18 million in coal severance tax over two years to the respective Kentucky coal counties for the first time since the inception of the tax.

Transportation priorities include building the I-69 bridge and speeding up the Mountain Parkway.

“These projects will open up commerce in rural Kentucky in a major way and will improve the quality of life for our people that live in these regions,” Beshear said. “We’re also investing a record amount of money into the safety of our rural roads. Our rural roads are the seventh most dangerous in the country. We’ve lost nearly 7,500 of our brothers and sisters, our parents and children, on these roads over the last 10 years. Using a combination of state and federal funds, my administration will put $100 million to improve our rural road conditions.”

Beshear is proposing $1 million in grants each year for the Department of Local Government to administer to local governments to conduct equal pay audits. He said the state is leading by example.

“If we in government are going to demand women make the same amount as men in the private sector, we have to make it a reality in the public sector,” he said.

Beshear reinstates funding for the Commission on Women, reinstates the Office of Minority Empowerment and provides an additional $200,000 each year to reinvest in the Commission on Human Rights.

Kentucky’s many challenges including a $109 million increase in the corrections budget fueled by a skyrocketing incarceration rate and crumbling infrastructure has led to the state losing more than 1,200 beds, Beshear indicated.

“From a moral standpoint, criminal justice and prison reform is the right thing to do. My faith teaches me that,” Beshear said. “But we must also do it based on our current reality and on our budget. We cannot afford to continue this incarceration rate and educate our children.”

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