Politics & Government

Beshear: State budget proposal won't rely on tax changes or gambling revenue

Harry Collins, a science teacher at Arlie Boggs Elementary in Letcher County, said he hasn’t had new textbooks in 12 years and relies largely on materials and information from the Internet.
Harry Collins, a science teacher at Arlie Boggs Elementary in Letcher County, said he hasn’t had new textbooks in 12 years and relies largely on materials and information from the Internet. Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday that he'll present a two-year budget plan to lawmakers next month that will not assume any changes in the state's tax code or the legalization of casino gambling, though he'll push for both of those initiatives.

Beshear also said he's "determined that we're going to find a way" to restore some of the funding K-12 schools lost during multiple rounds of state budget cuts since the 2008 recession.

The Kentucky Department of Education plans to lobby for an extra $336 million in the next two-year budget to return local school districts to pre-recession funding levels. Roughly half would go to the SEEK formula, the state's primary per-pupil funding source, and the rest would assist districts with teacher training, technology, textbooks and other items.

How much of that $336 million the schools will get has yet to be determined, Beshear told reporters at a year's end news conference in his Capitol office.

"If we're going to be able to reinvest in education at all, it's going to require some cuts in other agencies," the governor said.

"I'm determined that someway, somehow, we're not going to fall backward," Beshear said. "Our education community has done an amazing job ... in continuing to move this state forward with little to no money. We've not given them many tools with which to do their jobs, but they've done it anyway."

Beshear said his other major spending priority will be an extra $100 million for the state employees' pension system, which faces more than $8 billion in unfunded liabilities because of decades of underfunding by governors and lawmakers.

"It took us 15, 20, 30 years to get us into the mess we're in, so it's going to take us a while to get out," Beshear said of the pension situation.

Beshear said his budget plan will be tight, and it will based on the revenue projections presented to him on Thursday by a group of economists called the Consensus Forecasting Group.

The Democratic governor said he likely will tell lawmakers what could be done for the state if they make changes to tax laws and approve a constitutional amendment to let voters decide on whether to allow casinos in the state.

Aside from the budget, Beshear said he will push for a statewide smoking ban in the 2014 General Assembly that begins in January.

He also said he would seek to strengthen the state's child booster seat regulations; to pass protections against dating-violence; to help Eastern Kentucky's struggling economy by four-laning the remainder of the Mountain Parkway and helping to provide high-speed Internet service to more rural areas.

The nearly $10 billion-a-year budget for the General Fund, which pays for most state programs, will dominate the 2014 legislative session.

Beshear said tax reform and expanded gambling are difficult issues in any legislative session, but probably more so next year because of legislative elections.

All 100 House seats and 19 of the Senate's 38 seats will be up for grabs in November. Republicans are trying to gain control of the House for the first time since 1921.

Beshear said he sees "some encouraging signs" for expanded gambling. He noted that House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, and Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, R-Louisville, are working on the issue.

Reflecting on 2013, Beshear said his major accomplishment this year was implementing a state exchange for the federal Affordable Care Act and providing access to health care for 640,000 uninsured Kentuckians.

Beshear was asked if he favors or opposes the controversial Bluegrass Pipeline, a proposed natural-gas-liquids pipeline that would pass through Kentucky, raising local concerns about explosions and water pollution.

He said he was "monitoring" the situation and noted that a lawsuit has been filed to determine if companies behind the pipeline have the right under eminent domain to condemn and seize land they need.

Expecting the court to take several months to deal with the lawsuit, Beshear said he is looking at what, if any, action his administration and the legislature should take.

Beshear, who turned 69 in September, said he is "in excellent health" and looking forward to 2014.

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