A new day is dawning in Kentucky. For the first time in many years, the winds of financial responsibility have begun to blow briskly through the marble halls of Frankfort. These welcome breezes are ushering in the promise of a fresh start for the commonwealth.
This past Friday, the General Assembly passed a budget that invests more in our ailing pension system than ever before in history. Saving our underfunded retirement systems and paying down our debt were our top priorities this budget cycle. I am grateful for the bipartisan effort that has made this possible. I applaud Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and the members of the conference committee who worked until a compromise was achieved. While there were differences in our approaches, all sides ultimately came together to do what’s best for the people of Kentucky.
Kentuckians have consistently told me that cleaning up the state's finances is their number one priority. They elected me on a promise to stop wasteful spending in Frankfort and, ultimately, to operate state government within its means. With that in mind, I presented a bold budget, driven by the fact that the commonwealth has been left with more than $35 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Simply put, this is money we owe to our retired teachers and state employees, but do not have.
Because Kentuckians understandably do not want tax increases, our budget proposal modestly cut spending and allocated Kentucky’s hard-earned taxpayer dollars more prudently than in years past. It ensured sufficient funding for needed state services and our front-line workers, and invested in areas that will lead to more jobs and better access to quality healthcare for all Kentuckians.
I am pleased that the General Assembly heard the message from the voters of Kentucky who are fed up with mortgaging their children’s future by borrowing billions in new debt. The budget that was delivered to my desk represents an unprecedented commitment to state pension systems while protecting and enhancing critical programs.
It includes for the first time in Kentucky history a permanent pension fund for the dedicated purpose of paying down our pension obligations.This budget puts critically needed funds toward eliminating the rape kit backlog. Additionally, it increases funding for the fight against heroin and substance abuse. We are investing in our workers like never before and creating new opportunities for high-paying jobs. Our $100 million Workforce Development grant program is designed to foster innovative turnkey training projects that result in more and better jobs for Kentuckians.
Furthermore, we are increasing academic accountability in our public universities so that students have the best chance for employment when they graduate. The budget also provides greater accountability by allocating a portion of higher education funding based on performance measures. Kentucky taxpayers will have more confidence that the billions of dollars spent on higher education will be tied to results.
It’s likely going to be many years before we fully fund our pension obligations. But, thanks to the hard work of many who negotiated this budget, we are taking the first steps toward getting our financial house in order. This financial house cleaning is what the path to prosperity requires of us. This is what the outside credit rating agencies are demanding of us. They want to see evidence that we are actually taking this problem seriously.
Most importantly, the final version of this budget will help us build a brighter future for the next generation, instead of sticking them with more debt. I will be carefully reviewing the final details over the next several days. There is a spirit of renewed optimism welling up in the commonwealth. I see it building momentum with each passing day. This is our fresh start. We are Kentucky.
Matt Bevin is governor of Kentucky