Gov. Beshear Stresses Education, Competitiveness In Budget Address

Jan 21, 2014

Gov. Steve Beshear laid out his budget priorities for the next two years in his Tuesday night address.

Here's a breakdown of the $20.3 billion spending plan.

Education

In line with his previous pledges to find more money for education wherever possible, Beshear told the joint session of the legislature he wants to add an extra $189 million over current funding levels for public school classrooms over the next two years.

Much of those dollars would go toward a 2 percent pay raise in Fiscal Year 2015 and a 1 percent raise the following year for teachers and other school employees. Textbooks, teacher training, and school safety would also receive more money.

Beshear says his proposal would lift per-pupil spending to its highest total ever in Kentucky.

State Workers

The budget would also fully fund the Kentucky Retirement Systems pension contributions required for employees of state government, a $207 million commitment over the next two years. The Kentucky Teachers Retirement System would not receive the $400 million officials had requested.

State workers, however, would see their first pay raise since 2010.

Expanding Broadband

The governor is also proposing a $100 million project to expand high-speed Internet access to every part of Kentucky. The project would be financed by $60 million in bonds supported by the state General Fund and $40 million of federal and private funds.

Beshear says Kentucky ranks 46th nationally in broadband availability, and 23 percent of the state's rural areas lack broadband access.

He says the goal is to spread Internet access statewide in the next two to three years.

Community College

Beshear says the state should authorize $145.5 million in agency bonds to pay for a host of expansion projects at Kentucky's community and technical colleges.

The community and technical college system has grown to about 100,000 students. He says the General Fund can't meet the system's infrastructure needs. So he says KCTCS leaders recommended issuing agency bonds for up to 75 percent of project costs. The remaining 25 percent will come from local communities and other public or private sources.

Transportation

Beshear's transportation construction plan proposes about $1 billion in new construction work in each of the next two years.

He said his proposal includes such major initiatives as converting all of the Mountain Parkway into a four-lane highway and moving ahead on the Brent Spence Bridge project in northern Kentucky.

His highway plan also includes finishing the work to turn all of Interstate 65 between Bowling Green and Elizabethtown into a six-lane highway. It also calls for continued funding to support the Louisville Bridges Project and completion of bridges over Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake in far western Kentucky.

Cuts and Reaction

To help offset his proposed increase for elementary and secondary education, Beshear is recommending $98.6 million in budget cuts.

Most agencies, including the Energy and Environment Cabinet, the Labor Cabinet, and the legislative branch, would absorb a 5 percent cut in the next Fiscal Year. To free up more money for schools, he's proposing a 2.5 percent cut for universities, community and technical colleges, and the Kentucky State Police.

In a proposal unlikely to please Republicans, Beshear is advocating for $1.96 billion in newly issued debt. The move would increase debt payments from 6.72 percent of revenue to just over 7 percent.

"I think he was likening it to how we've spent in the past, but the times that he was describing... were times when we were not in recession. These are still difficult times," Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine told KET.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Greg Stumbo called the budget "maybe the best job that I've seen in the 30 years I've been in the legislature." The Democratic leader praised the document as "creative" in its use of funds for a variety of different projects across the state.

Read Governor Beshear's 2014 Budget Address here.