The House’s version of a two-year state budget would substantially lessen or reverse the cuts to public education proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Tuesday.
“The economy is rebounding,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said after a meeting of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. “It’s time to reinvest, restore some of the cuts that have been made, particularly to education.”
He added: “We hope to restore as much of the money as we can. Until you put the whole budget together, you can’t really say for sure, but our goal is to restore and make whole our educational community as best we can.”
Bevin, a Republican, proposed a budget that would cut the state’s public universities by 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent in the next biennium. His budget did not cut the main funding formula for K-12 schools, but it did slash $72 million from the state education department, affecting numerous scholastic programs.
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“It’s not a time to abandon our commitment to education in Kentucky,” Stumbo said. “I don’t think it’s a time that we should make the ‘draconian’ cuts, as (UK President) Dr. (Eli) Capilouto spoke of, nor cuts that would require one of our universities right here in Frankfort to perhaps close its doors.”
Kentucky State University President Raymond Burse said last month that Bevin’s budget might cause the school to shut down.
Stumbo’s remarks came after the House budget committee passed two of the speaker’s bills, one to raise the state’s minimum wage and one to create a scholarship for community college students.
The Work Ready Kentucky program, House Bill 626, would use General Fund money — $13 million the first year, $20 million the second — to pay the remaining tuition costs for new community college students after existing state scholarship aid programs have been used. Money from student loans and work-study programs would not be counted against a scholarship. The program is aimed at producing more job-ready Kentuckians for employers.
It would be confined to in-state students who have graduated from high school or received a GED before turning 19. They would have to enroll in a school in the Kentucky Community & Technical College System immediately after high school and take at least 12 credit hours each semester. A student would have to maintain a 2.0 GPA to keep the scholarship, which would end after a student has received money for six semesters, gets an associate degree or is four years removed from high school.
The money probably will probably come out of some of the funds that Bevin has proposed devoting to Kentucky’s state pension shortfall, and other programs, Stumbo said.
The bill was approved by the budget committee 27-3, with two pass votes. It received qualified support from Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, and other Republicans.
“I do believe this will be a complement to the administration’s work on workforce development,” Wuchner said. “My reservations are with the revenue stream that will pay for this.”
Bevin has proposed a $100 million construction bond for workforce development and diverting $60 million from need-based aid programs to create a scholarship program for students participating in workforce development programs. Stumbo said Tuesday that he wasn’t sure where those two proposals would end up in the House version of the budget.
“At this point it’s my understanding that (Education) Secretary (Hal) Heiner has not brought a plan as of yet,” Stumbo said after that meeting. “Until that plan is forthcoming, it’s very difficult for the General Assembly to create debt, not knowing where those dollars are going to go.”
The committee also passed a revised version of Stumbo’s bill to raise the minimum wage. This time, House Bill 278 would be confined to one year, raising the hourly wage from $7.25 to $8.10. The original bill phased in a three-year change to $10.10.
The new version will allow legislators to make changes every year to get the wage up, Stumbo said.
“I think it’s time to give some relief to minimum-wage workers,” he said. The bill passed 21-6 with five passes.
The budget committee also passed House Bill 1, Stumbo’s measure to issue $3.3 billion in bonds to help the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. It also will come back to the committee for more discussion; Bevin has vowed to veto the bill.
The committee also preliminarily approved the major spending bills, including the state budget, the judicial budget and the two-year road plan, but they will be sent to the Rules Committee for first and second readings. Then they will return to the budget committee for changes and discussion before final votes.
The House budget should be ready to go to a vote by early next week, Stumbo said.
It’s not clear what will happen to a substantially different House budget. In January, Bevin said he would veto any major changes to his proposed budget.
“The clock is ticking on Kentucky’s financial future,” Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said in a statement Tuesday. “Gov. Bevin has proposed a fiscally responsible budget that invests in our teachers, state workers and our future workforce. The number one financial threat to Kentucky’s future is our pension crisis. The governor’s budget sets aside more funding for pensions than any previous budget. We are still waiting for details from Speaker Stumbo, but Gov. Bevin has been clear that he will not sign a budget that robs from our pension fund or adds to our debt.”