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Some good things did come out of new budget

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From the House

By Rep. Linda Belcher

    FRANKFORT - In a spirit of compromise that followed weeks of debate, the House and Senate came together recently to vote for a two-year budget that has the twin goals of living within our means while preserving classroom funding and other critical services.

    Unfortunately, I could not vote for the Executive Branch budget.  I felt that too many “good things” were cut from the budget that would have helped Bullitt County and our state.  However, I did vote for the operation budget for the state’s road plan.

    The budget was the main reason for last week’s special legislative session, which ran for just six days.  Although the House would have preferred including our “Kentucky Jobs for Kentucky Families” program to help jump-start the economy and rebuild many of our oldest schools and improve our infrastructure, this budget offers a way forward that will allow state government to continue to operate through what all agree is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

    The upcoming two-year deficit is expected to exceed $1 billion, and that comes on top of previous reductions totaling hundreds of millions of dollars more.  It is worth noting that neither year of the budget, which begins in July, will have as much revenue as the current fiscal year, the first time this has happened in the modern era.

    The budget approved on Friday calls for much of state government to be reduced by a little more than 3 percent in the first year and an additional 1 percent in the second. Those programs at least partially shielded from this requirement include not only our classrooms and Medicaid, but also such areas as Kentucky State Police; prosecutors and public defenders; corrections; economic development; and KET.  Public post-secondary schools will see smaller cuts as well in an effort to avoid a large spike in tuition for families.  New sewer and water projects, however, were pulled out of the House budget by the Senate.

    This budget continues moving Kentucky forward in many ways.  It has the lowest amount of borrowing since 1996, but still supports or authorizes more than $1 billion in projects for our schools, universities and already approved local water and sewer agencies.

    Importantly, it sets the stage for replacing all Category 5 schools, the 15 most dilapidated facilities in the state.  All are substandard and far inferior to what our children deserve, and these schools’ safety is questionable; therefore, I did support the amendment to build these Category 5 schools.

    This positive move will enable us to turn our focus to the dozens of other schools that, while perhaps not as out-dated, deserve to be replaced or renovated as well.

    In other positive news, the budget continues strengthening our public retirement systems for the long term, and it calls for fewer contracts and political appointees and greater efficiencies, generating just shy of $300 million in ongoing savings.

    While passing the budget was the reason for the special session - we had to have one in place by July or risk having much of state government shut down - legislators also voted for several other bills that Governor Beshear had included on the agenda.  That includes a road plan for the next two years plus a needed fix for our unemployment insurance fund, a move that has broad support from business and labor groups alike.

    By laying the groundwork to return the fund back to good fiscal health, we can help businesses save as much as $700 million over a decade.

    As for transportation, Bullitt County did receive road projects at my request.

    Barring something unexpected, this session ends our work passing laws this year, but the legislature will continue monitoring state government as it always does in the months ahead.  When the regular session begins in January, my hope is that the economy will improve enough that we can revisit the budget and hopefully do more for our critical programs.

    In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who has contacted me this year, whether it was in person or by phone or letter.  Your contributions have helped me do a much better job serving as your representative, and I want to thank you.

    I encourage you to continue letting me know your thoughts or concerns, because the legislative process doesn’t end when the final law is signed by the governor.  Should you want to contact me, I can be reached by writing to Room 351B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.  Please visit my Facebook page online for more updates.

   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.