Herald-Leader Editorial

Restore child-care funds to Ky. budget; Senate right to reduced earmarked projects

March 27, 2014 

A recent report by America's Edge, a nonprofit national business group, said Kentucky gets a $1.64 return from every $1 it spends on early childhood education.

House and Senate leaders need to keep this in mind as they spend the next few days trying to resolve differences in versions of the two-year General Fund budget passed by their respective chambers.

If they do, restoring the $13.8 million in annual preschool spending approved by the House but dropped by the Senate should be a no-brainer. If they don't, Kentucky's citizens and its economy eventually will suffer for lawmakers' foolishness in rejecting this 64 percent return on investment.

A similar rationale argues for restoration of the child-care subsidies, child-care provider reimbursement rates and foster-care reimbursement rates the Republican Senate majority deleted from the Democratic House majority's version of the budget. Without the benefit of the more than $30 million in these cuts, low-income parents could be forced to quit jobs, thereby increasing their families' need for other forms of public assistance.

A couple of other spending cuts in the Senate budget fly in the face of reason. Reducing mine-safety funding by $2.6 million a year and reducing the number of required inspections from six to two a year puts Kentucky miners' lives at greater risk than they have been in the years since the General Assembly tightened safety rules following the deaths of five miners at the Darby Mine in Harlan County in 2006.

And if the potential consequences were not so serious, Senate Republicans' posturing explanation for eliminating $15.5 million in funding for indigent care provided by University of Louisville Hospital would be farcical. Republican state legislators have joined their national colleagues in assailing the Affordable Care Act as flawed policy and an implementation failure. And the Senate version prohibits state funds from being used to implement the act in Kentucky. But Senate Republicans justified eliminating all funding for indigent care by saying the very federal reforms they ridicule make such spending unnecessary.

Despite these flaws and an unwise decision to make teachers' pay raises optional for school districts, which will simply increase the disparity between wealthier and poorer districts, the Senate budget is an improvement over the House version in key respects. The Senate wisely reduced bonded indebtedness to a more fiscally responsible level than the House or Gov. Steve Beshear proposed.

In doing so, however, it cut a bit deep on proposed university projects by eliminating even those that could pay for themselves with a dedicated revenue stream. Such projects do not contribute to tuition inflation, cited as a reason for eliminating the projects and restoring the 2.5 percent cut in universities' operational funds proposed by Beshear and approved by the House.

Oddly enough, the Senate didn't show a similar concern for keeping higher education affordable when it allowed the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to finance its construction projects in large part by charging students an $8 fee per credit hour.

The Senate also made the right call in a few other areas: cutting more than 400 earmarked projects the House budget proposed to pay for with coal severance taxes (the severance money can better be spent on regionwide programs and local governments, as Beshear proposed), relying less on one-time sources of money than the House did in balancing its version of the budget, and leaving more in the state's "rainy day" fund at the end of the next two-year budget than the House proposed to do.

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