Politics & Government

House approves state budget that cuts university projects

FRANKFORT — The House overwhelmingly approved a two-year, $19.5 billion state budget Wednesday that includes an 8.4 percent spending cut to many state agencies and scraps more than $450 million in university bonds.

House Bill 265 won approval Wednesday on a 78-to-17 vote. The measure now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Wednesday he could not comment on the House budget until it has been read and studied.

Wednesday was the 42nd day of the 60-day legislative session, but Stivers said the Senate is getting the House budget earlier than usual.

The House version of the budget makes few changes to Gov. Steve Beshear's proposed budget, which was introduced in January.

Calling the budget "inadequate" to meet Kentucky's needs, Beshear's budget included 8.4 percent cuts to many agencies, a 6.4 percent cut to higher education and a 4.5 percent cut to many areas of K-12 education. The main funding formula for Kentucky schools was not cut, but it is still about $50 million short because of a miscalculation of the projected student population.

Changes made by the House to Beshear's proposal included scrapping about $450 million in university bonds and nixing a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for the state's retirees.

The House version restored $7.5 million to some areas of education that have suffered cuts, including after-school programs, social service programs and gifted and talented programs. The House budget also gave an additional $250,000 to the Division of Water to clear a backlog of water permits.

The budget does not include pay raises for state employees.

Beshear had proposed a 2.2 percent cut to the state's prosecutors, but the House version deletes that cut.

The House also gave prosecutors additional money this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The House also kept provisions in Beshear's budget that provide an additional $21 million to hire 300 front-line social workers and an additional $1 million for colon-cancer screenings.

The House budget cuts about $450 million in proposed university bonds because of concerns about the state's rising debt.

"The amount of debt that the commonwealth has incurred is just too much," said Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, and chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

"This is a responsible budget," Rand said on the House floor. "We are being very responsible with our debt."

The House debated the bill for about an hour before passing the measure.

Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, said he objected to scrapping the university bonds. Those bonds would be repaid using money raised by the universities, not state tax dollars.

"This is tying the hands of our universities," Farmer said.

The construction projects could create jobs, he said.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he voted against the bill because it "is not adequate in several different ways."

"This is going to cause pain for a number of people," Wayne said.

The House also approved the legislative branch budget and the judicial branch budget. Both branches will take an 8.4 percent cut. The legislative branch will have to return about $5.2 million to the General Fund over the next two years.