FRANKFORT — Unlike other times when Kentucky has had to handle a shortfall in its budget, Gov. Steve Beshear is emphasizing that "nothing is off the table" in resolving the problem.
"With a shortfall of this size, nothing can be — or should be — off the table, if we are to address this deficit in a fiscally responsible manner," Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said Wednesday.
In previous state budget shortfalls, administrations have warned and prepared for deep cuts but usually have exempted or limited paring the state's basic funding to schools and Medicaid.
Some other protected areas through recent shortfalls have included corrections and prosecutors.
But this time, the Beshear administration, in handling a projected $456.1 million shortfall this fiscal year that ends June 30, is emphasizing that every option must be considered.
Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo did not waver from that stance Wednesday morning during an appearance on Jack Pattie's WVLK radio show.
A caller asked Mongiardo whether furloughs, four-day work weeks or unpaid leave for state workers might be an option in dealing with the huge shortfall.
Mongiardo replied, "Everything is on the table."
Asked if possible furloughs also might apply to workers in politically appointed or non-merit positions, Mongiardo responded, "Everything is on the table."
"That's just about all he would say," Pattie later said of the lieutenant governor's comments.
Blanton and Jeff Derouen, Mongiardo's spokesman, said it would be unfair and misleading to say that the Beshear administration is going to implement furloughs to address the shortfall.
"We're not giving any priority at this time to any option to balance the budget," Derouen said. "We're just saying everything is on the table."
If the lieutenant governor had been asked whether cuts in Medicaid were a possibility, he would have responded the same way as he did with the question about furloughs, Derouen said.
"No one should single out an option and get people stirred up with thinking this is what is going to happen," he added.
Blanton stressed that "no specific course of action has been planned."
He noted that the administration has asked the cabinets, agencies, universities and Department of Education "to prepare scenarios that contemplate the impacts of 4 percent budget cuts."
Those scenarios, Blanton said, "will be our starting point for developing a proposal, which the governor will take to the legislature and the people of Kentucky for input" next month.
Blanton said Mongiardo was "exactly right" with his answers on the radio show.
"Nothing is off the table," he said.
Blanton said the 4 percent-cut scenarios from the cabinets, agencies, universities and Department of Education "will help us gauge the impact of the shortfall and potential reductions.
"In fact, we may, indeed, have to go back to cabinets, agencies and other institutions with further questions and requests."
Blanton said the administration is "trying to size and gauge not only the magnitude of this budget challenge, but how it will specifically impact the state and services we provide."
The anticipation over what action the Beshear administration might take is difficult, said Lee Jackson, president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees.
"I have not heard any specifics of what the Beshear administration might do, but I know there is a lot of concern," Jackson said.
He noted that if layoffs and furloughs are proposed as options, "We would have to be sure rules regarding them would be followed."
State law stipulates how layoffs would occur, Jackson said, adding that he thinks the law also applies to furloughs.
"Under the law, each agency would have to develop a layoff plan. I hope it doesn't have to come to something like that," Jackson said. "But right now, everybody is being so tight-lipped about what might happen, only saying everything is on the table."