FRANKFORT – During the legislative session that ended earlier this month, Kentuckians saw a textbook example of what positive things can happen when both parties in the General Assembly come together and work toward the Commonwealth’s greater good.
The end result was a landmark law that stands as the biggest change to our criminal code since it was overhauled in the mid-1970s. It showed just how effective the legislative process could be when everyone has a seat at the table and a desire to do something truly meaningful.
Kentuckians witnessed another example of that bipartisan goodwill this past Thursday, when the Kentucky House of Representatives came together in strong support of a solution that will close a sizeable deficit in Medicaid, continue protecting the classroom and keep other vital services from further cuts. All but two of the chamber’s 100 members voted in favor.This problem came about when the federal government did not provide as much stimulus money for Medicaid as Kentucky and about two dozen other states had been expecting. Overall, the deficit is more than a half-billion dollars, and if nothing had been done legislatively, the alternative was drastic: Healthcare providers who treat patients enrolled in the program would have seen their payments cut by 35 percent during the next three months. It was the only way the budget could be balanced by the end of the fiscal year, which arrives June 30.
The House worked to solve this during the legislative session, but that hope ended when talks with Senate leaders – who favor cutting classrooms and other state government services – broke down. It appeared the special session called by Governor Beshear was heading in the same direction.To come up with a final solution, the House had to take a step back to move two steps forward. While we did not favor the Senate’s latest version, we nevertheless adopted it because we had assurances that Governor Beshear would use his veto pen to ensure that none of the actions we oppose – especially classroom cuts – would ever take place.
In a letter sent Thursday evening to House members, he wrote that “you have my absolute commitment to honor the principles you and the Senate Democrats have stood for throughout this session.”
We in the House believe this was the best way to shorten the legislative session, save taxpayer dollars and still accomplish our goal of keeping the solution within Medicaid. The Senate, unfortunately, did not agree to end the session once the legislation was sent to the governor; instead, its leaders want a veto recess that would cost the state more than $800,000, even though no action will be taken.
As we wait for that to play out, it is good to know that the issue at hand is over. Once this bill becomes law, it will tackle the short-term deficit by bringing money forward set aside for next fiscal year, giving the state time to absorb the cuts over 15 months rather than three.
To fill that hole, we give Governor Beshear the authority – as he requested – to achieve much of the savings we need by expanding the type of managed healthcare programs that have worked well in the 16-county Louisville area since the late 1990s.
Governor Beshear is confident that we will know this summer if, as expected, the full savings will be available. Governor Beshear will also be making $169 million in cuts to government in general this coming fiscal year, as called for in the state budget adopted last year. This is on top of more than $1 billion in other cuts during the last several years.
This year’s legislative sessions proved to be unique in many ways, but we ended our work with substantial action. Even as other states take such actions as laying off teachers, closing state parks and limiting other vital services, Kentucky has been able to avoid all of that. This new law will continue that commitment.
I received many calls and letters this year and want to thank you for letting me know your views and concerns. If you would like to contact me throughout the year, my address is 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 the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.