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House Democrats Send State Budget to Senate

The separate budget proposals presented by House Democrats and Republicans may not differ greatly in substance, but you wouldn’t know that from the length and tenor of the floor debate that preceded Wednesday’s vote on the state’s two-year spending plan.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) and the Democratic majority blocked consideration of more than a dozen floor amendments filed by Republicans. In protest the minority caucus refused to vote on the $20 billion-plus executive branch budget.

The Democratic spending plan preserves K-12 funding and holds harmless preschool, professional development, extended school services, and family and youth service centers. Their version of House Bill 303 also reverses Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed cuts to higher education and appropriates nearly $1 billion to meet the actuarially required contribution (ARC) for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System without bonding. It also funds the ARC for the state workers’ pension plan.

In floor debate yesterday, House Budget Chair Rick Rand (D- Bedford) explained the goals Democrats used to create their budget.

The House majority rejected Gov. Bevin’s $100 million bond pool for workforce development. Instead Democrats allocated $32 million for a new community college tuition-free scholarship program. Their version also meets the statutory promise of using a portion of Kentucky Lottery proceeds to fund need-based college scholarships. Democrats kept the governor’s recommendation to give pay raises to state police, corrections officers, and social workers.

House Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee (R-Lexington) lamented that House Democrats propose spending nearly $270 million more than Bevin recommended in his budget plan. Lee also criticized funding for Planned Parenthood. Democrats deny that state money goes to Planned Parenthood, although close to $300,000 in federal dollars flow through the state to fund the organization in the commonwealth.

The Democrats’ spending plan protects state universities from the governor’s proposed 4.5 percent budget cut this fiscal year and 9 percent cuts over the next two years of the biennium. Rep. James Kay (D-Versailles) noted the burgeoning rate of student loan debt and the General Assembly’s past failure to fund need-based college financial aid programs as it’s supposed to do by law. Kay says Bevin also fails to keep that promise.

Rep. Diane St. Onge (R-Lakeside Park) complained that the Democrats’ plan removes the equity-funding fix for Northern Kentucky University and Western Kentucky University. She said those funding disparities will exacerbate the debt load of students enrolled there.

After vigorous and lengthy debate, House Democrats passed their spending plan 53-0, which reflects the numerical majority of the caucus. The measure needed 51 to advance. All 47 House Republicans abstained from voting.

The House also passed the legislative and judicial branch budgets, along with the revenue package. Those bills now go to the Republican-controlled Senate, where leaders have been developing their own version of the state budget.

Today is the 50th day of this year’s 60-day session. Lawmakers are scheduled to recess on March 30 so the governor can consider any vetoes. They return in mid-April for the final two days of the session.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and for a recap of the full day’s activities, watch Legislative Update, weeknights at 11 on KET. You can also follow the Kentucky General Assembly on KET’s Legislative Coverage App for your smartphone or tablet.