Kentucky House expected to propose budget in line with Beshear's

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 26, 2012 

FRANKFORT — The state House is expected to propose a two-year state budget with no new taxes that mostly will keep Gov. Steve Beshear's recommended 8.4 percent spending cuts for many agencies and provide no salary increases for state workers and teachers.

House Democratic leaders worked during the weekend on their chamber's financial plan for the state. They mulled over the budget Beshear unveiled in January, one of the most austere in recent history.

House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, told reporters Sunday that House leaders have not decided what, if any, substantial changes might be made in the governor's $19.5 billion budget.

But he said Beshear's recommended cuts "probably in large" will stay in place. "It's going to be awfully hard to find money in this budget to restore many," he said.

Beshear has proposed $286 million in cuts, a move he said could mean some state agencies might have to trim staff.

Under Beshear's plan, agencies would receive the same amount in both years of the budget. Several key programs would be exempt from the 8.4 percent cuts, while others would see smaller cuts.

Beshear's exempted programs include Medicaid; the main funding formula for K-12 schools; preschool; veterans' affairs; child and adult protection; mental health; prisons, probation and parole; public defenders; student financial aid; mine permitting and reclamation; and the Kentucky Horse Park.

Programs that would see smaller cuts under Beshear's plan include universities and community colleges, 6.4 percent.

Rand noted that the House might have some different spending priorities than the governor does, but he said the House would not do anything to raise additional money.

The House budget chairman said it was "possible but not probable" that the legislature would follow actions in past budgets and try to find money by mandating that the governor initiate additional savings.

The House will not try to raise more money at this time, Rand said, "because I just don't think we have laid the groundwork for those things right now. It takes a long time to build that support."

He said the House probably would keep in its budget the $21 million Beshear recommended to add more than 300 social workers and support staff in an effort to reduce caseloads of front-line social workers.

He was not as sure about the fate of Beshear's call for more money for early childhood education.

He said educators are telling House leaders that more money should be directed to preschool.

Rand said no decisions have been made on the legislative and judicial budgets and Beshear's proposal to spend $1 million for colon cancer screenings for the uninsured, to be matched by $1 million in private donations.

The lawmaker said it was too early to say how much debt the House would recommend for building projects.

The weekend budget discussions did not deal with a proposal to use coal severance tax revenue to bring University of Pikeville into the state university system, Rand said.

The House hopes to get its budget proposal to the Senate within two weeks, Rand said. The legislative session must end by April 15.

After the House approves its state budget, the Senate will come up with its two-year spending plan.

A conference committee made up of representatives from both chambers then would be formed to try to iron out differences between the two chambers.

Jack Brammer: (859) 231-1302. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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