Tucked inside Gov. Matt Bevin’s state budget bill is language that would suspend prevailing wage on public works projects and end state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, two hot-button items for Republicans that are bottled up in the legislative process.
House Bill 303, filed late Wednesday, also would drain $500 million from the Public Employee Health Insurance Trust Fund, a self-insurance fund for 260,000 state workers, retirees and their families, in order to balance the books. Angering some state workers, recent budgets have diverted between $50 million to $93 million a year in surplus funds to plug revenue holes elsewhere. But no cash grab has come close to the size of Bevin’s proposal.
One reason the fund has a surplus to divert is that state workers have been hit with higher monthly premiums since 2008, said Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in Berea.
“For public employees, it’s on top of other cuts to their compensation, including a lack of salary increases and pension cuts,” Bailey wrote in a report Thursday.
Democratic lawmakers quickly pounced on what they called the “surprise” sections, saying the new Republican governor did not mention them Tuesday in budget briefings or during his address to a joint session of the House and Senate.
The Democratic-led House will produce its own budget plan in coming weeks, one that is not likely to have Bevin’s controversial policy language, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said.
“I would imagine those things would come out,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
If the governor really wants partisan policy inserted into the state budget, the House can add language mandating a higher statewide minimum wage, borrowing to shore up the ailing teacher pension system and a statewide smoking ban, Stumbo added, naming three items he favors.
In reply, Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said: “Governor Bevin has always been clear he is committed to restricting public funds to abortion providers and repealing the prevailing wage to save taxpayer dollars. By putting these issues in the budget, both houses of the General Assembly will be required to address them this session.”
Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, told his colleagues during a floor speech Thursday about some of the budget bill provisions that “Democrats have discovered.” Jones focused on Bevin’s proposal to suspend prevailing wage on public works projects. Jones later said he “would absolutely oppose” keeping the language in the bill.
The prevailing wage law generally sets higher wage rates for public works projects. Supporters of it, including unions, say it is needed to provide quality work in public projects. Its opponents contend that it needlessly drives up construction costs.
Bill Londrigan, president of the state AFL-CIO, said Bevin’s proposal is “a back-hand way of ending prevailing wage and lowering workers’ salaries on public works projects.”
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Republican-controlled Senate has always supported repealing the prevailing wage law. Earlier this month, it approved Senate Bill 9 to exempt school and university construction from Kentucky’s prevailing wage.
Stumbo has said that bill won’t pass in the Democratic-led House.
Jones said the Senate bill would affect 75,000 Kentucky construction workers. He called it “an anti-middle class bill” and predicted that it is “only the beginning of the assault on prevailing wage.”
Bevin’s budget bill says no public funds, including federal funds for family planning or women’s health services, shall be paid to any entity that provides abortion services or any affiliate of an entity that does so. That language is aimed at Planned Parenthood, which is a state contractor in Lexington to provide health services — but not abortion — to women.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky said it was disappointed by Bevin’s attempt.
Patti Stauffer, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said any financial cut “limits the ability to provide crucial services and eliminates the possibility of future strategic collaborations around programming with cervical cancer prevention, teen pregnancy and HIV testing.”
Planned Parenthood announced Thursday that as of this month, its new health clinic in Louisville offers abortion services. However, that same clinic no longer accepts federal or state funds for women’s health services, exempting it from whatever restrictions the state of Kentucky tries to place of such funding this year, the group said.
Bevin responded to that announcement by alleging the new clinic does not have the necessary license and therefore is violating Kentucky law.
“We will use the full force of the commonwealth to put a stop to this,” Bevin said in a statement. “There is no room in Kentucky for this kind of blatant disregard for proper legal procedure.”