A legislative perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with Rep. Linda Belcher

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By Rep. Linda Belcher

FRANKFORT – Shortly after Governor Beshear first took office, he said he knew that state government’s cupboard would be bare, but he didn’t expect to find it gone.

That was four years ago.  Since then, both he and the General Assembly have had to cut spending by an additional billion dollars.  And the short-term future, unfortunately, shows even more reductions looming on the horizon.  During his budget address to legislators on Tuesday last week, Governor Beshear proposed most agencies trim about 8 percent more next fiscal year, which begins in July, and then maintain that level of spending in the year that follows.

This comes even as the state’s economists predict moderate growth during that time.  Though that is certainly good news, it will not be enough to off-set some significant one-time sources of funding used in past budgets to maintain services and ongoing savings from major overhauls of the state’s penal code and Medicaid.

Still, it’s worth noting that, in many ways, Kentucky has not had to make the drastic decisions many other states have made, some of which have already laid off thousands of teachers and state employees or hiked taxes significantly.  The governor’s plan continues to avoid those stark choices, all while continuing to live within our means.

On the positive side, there are some crucial aspects of the governor’s budget that are either shielded from cuts or even enhanced.   Those areas include classroom funding, corrections, Medicaid and veterans affairs.

Our public postsecondary schools would see fewer cuts than other agencies, and they would be authorized to move forward with hundreds of millions of dollars of projects that the schools could fund themselves.

Community-based services for some of our most vulnerable citizens, meanwhile, would get more money to reduce the sizeable caseload our social workers face, and preschool services would be expanded to cover more children from lower-income families.

Governor Beshear also set aside money, to be matched dollar-for-dollar with private donations, to increase colon cancer screenings, and he would add money to the program that helps law enforcement use electronic monitoring to target those involved in prescription drug abuse.

If there is a true silver lining when it comes to the budget, it’s that our Road Fund continues to do well; in fact, we’re expecting growth to exceed 6 percent next year and nearly 5 percent in the year after that.

Over the last several legislative sessions, the General Assembly has worked hard to make sure our Six-Year-Road-Plan truly lives up to its name, because for many years, projects were included but never funded in a timely way.  I think it’s important we maintain that continuity, so that communities like ours can be assured that such projects move forward as they should.

For now, the House will spend the next few weeks analyzing the budget to see what changes we might like to make.  House leaders have indicated that there might not be many, considering how limited our options are.  The Senate will then work on its proposal, and a final version should be signed into law by mid-April.

As tough as this time is, the long-term hope is that the economic gains we have seen in recent months will continue, which in turn would make it easier for us to strengthen our core programs, especially in education.

Other good news legislatively includes redistricting for Bullitt County.  With help from the House leadership, we were able to design a plan that will allow us to have only two representatives and both live in the county.  Thanks to all who supported this plan.  It took many meetings, but we were able to get it done.

The Senate plan also bodes well for Bullitt County.  Our Senate district includes Bullitt and Nelson counties.  With our large population, we should have the advantage to elect a senator from Bullitt County, if we can get people to go vote.  This could make a great difference and help us get our needs addressed.  I hope everyone will consider supporting the Bullitt County candidate!

As always, your input in the legislative process is crucial.  If you would like to let me know your thoughts, I can be reached by writing to Room 351B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.