Beshear vetoes several parts of Kentucky budget bill

jbrammer@herald-leader.comApril 11, 2014 

— Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed several parts of the state budget bill Friday, including language that he said would prevent nine of 16 proposed building projects in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Additionally, Beshear took his veto pen to a bill dealing with public-private partnerships. The bill also prohibits the use of tolls to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries traffic on Interstate 75/Interstate 71 across the Ohio River between Covington and Cincinnati.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday after a two-week recess to consider the Democratic governor's vetoes. It takes a majority in each chamber — 51 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate — to override a gubernatorial veto.

Lawmakers can override any or all of the line-item vetoes in the budget.

In an email, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, did not indicate how the House will react to the vetoes. He said only: "We will discuss the vetoes with the caucus when the General Assembly returns on Monday."

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he does not think the governor's veto pertaining to KCTCS will be popular in the Republican-led Senate.

He added that the Senate probably has enough votes to override the bill dealing with partnerships and the Brent Spence Bridge, but he noted that consideration of vetoes of both bills will start in the Democratic-controlled House.

Beshear praised the two-year, $20.3 billion state budget found in House Bill 235 although he found fault with parts of it.

He said he especially was pleased that the lawmakers kept in the budget several of his key education proposals.

He noted that the bill raises per-pupil spending to its highest level ever, gives teachers and other employees raises, increases the number of 4-year-olds in preschool, enables community colleges to add critically needed classroom space and other facilities, and restores cuts to child care programs that help working families keep their jobs.

He said it also provides additional funding for school technology, textbooks, school safety, professional development for educators, and bonding for school construction.

Though the budget will mean progress for education, Beshear said, he said he was aware of the harm that cuts of up to 5 percent will do to other state agencies and programs.

The 2015-16 budget marks the 14th time that the administration has cut programs and services since 2008, with some agencies enduring collective cuts of 41 percent, he said, warning that the impact might include service delays, more employee attrition, possible layoffs, loss of federal funds and possible facility closures.

"Many Kentuckians will be affected by these cuts, and I'm as frustrated as they are," Beshear said. "This is just further evidence of the need to fix the way we fund state services."

Beshear said he made limited use of his line-item veto authority "to strike confusing and problematic language in the budget bill that diminished the administration's ability to successfully manage the budget.

Beshear excised language from the budget bill that he said "would have limited the ability of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to carry out long-overdue capital projects authorized at each of its 16 regional campuses.

"Specifically, the vetoed language would have prevented nine of the 16 projects from being built."

By vetoing that language, Beshear said, each campus will be able to take advantage of the $145.5 million in authorized agency bonds, which are available to KCTCS for the first time.

About 100,000 students access education through KCTCS and its 16 colleges and 73 campuses, Beshear said.

The general fund, which pays for most state programs, can't meet the system's infrastructure needs, Beshear said, "so KCTCS leadership 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. The bonds will support one project at each KCTCS college.

Other items Beshear vetoed in the budget bill included language that he said would limit Attorney General Jack Conway from participating in multistate settlement litigation and agreements.

Several legislators have criticized Conway for using some settlement money for projects he favors and not sending all the money to the general fund, which the legislature approves.

Beshear also line-item vetoed in the budget bill provisions dealing with unexpended funds, the Department of Education's learning and results services program, indigent care at the University of Louisville, and health care cost savings.

In vetoing the bill dealing with public-private partnerships, Beshear said the measure "encumbers an otherwise well-intentioned policy measure with unnecessary elements relating to a single, near-term project, which should not be enshrined into permanent law."

He said the bill prohibits the use of the partnerships with Ohio, especially the use of tolls to fund the Brent Spence Bridge project. Tolls for the project have become a controversial issue in Northern Kentucky.

Beshear said "it is imprudent to eliminate any potential means of financing construction of such a vital piece of infrastructure" that serves not only Kentucky and Ohio but also the eastern United States.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, in a release, said it was "genuinely disappointed" in Beshear's veto that struck language dealing with public-private partnerships. It said it will urge lawmakers to override the veto.

Beshear signed into law Friday the judicial and legislative branch budgets.

This year's General Assembly has not yet passed either the two-year transportation budget or the six-year road plan. The legislative session cannot run past April 15.

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

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