FRANKFORT — Budget cuts will prevent Kentucky from doubling the number of safety inspections at coal mines next year as mandated by lawmakers in 2007 following a series of fatal mining accidents.
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"We are retreating further and further from a safe and healthy environment," Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters said Wednesday.
Mine safety, legal help for the poor, job training for the disabled, Kentucky Educational Television and money for county jails will also be slashed under cuts outlined Wednesday by four state agency heads in two different news conferences.
The secretaries outlined how 4 percent cuts to their already reduced budgets would affect day-to-day operations over the next six months as Gov. Steve Beshear and lawmakers plug a $456.1 million shortfall. If lawmakers don't agree to a 70 cent increase in the tax on cigarettes, the secretaries said cuts will be much deeper.
Peters said a four percent cut would translate to about $2.9 million in cuts. J. Michael Brown, secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said his agency must trim $5.6 million. The Justice and Public Safety Cabinet includes juvenile justice, the Department of Corrections, the Kentucky State Police and other safety programs.
At the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, cuts could translate to a loss of approximately $10 million. The Department of Veterans Affairs may have to lay off seven employees and limit the number of burials per day at three state cemeteries to trim $667,000 from its budget.
Peters said Wednesday that he won't have money to hire additional mine inspectors, making it impossible to meet the legislative mandate, which goes into effect Jan. 1.
Peters said the mines will still be inspected, just not six times a year.
Those who pushed for the change were angered by the news.
"I don't understand how they can not do it. It's a mandate. It's set by law," said Tony Oppegard, a lawyer and mine safety advocate who pushed for the changes. "That law was passed over the dead bodies of coal miners."
Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she's not surprised the state can't conduct increased inspections, given that the cabinet already suffered a double-digit budget cut this year before the present four percent cuts.
Still, Webb said increasing inspections isn't just a nice idea, "it's the law."
Peters said budget cuts will also bring delays for mine permits and other types of environmental permits. There will be delays in annual air and water quality inspections as well, he said. Eventually, the agency will fall behind in its inspections.
Brown said the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet will cut $250,000 from its $500,000 allotment to Legal Aid, which provides civil attorneys to the poor and older people to help with legal disputes over housing and other issues.
Juvenile justice programs will also face the budget guillotine — 41 of its prevention programs for juvenile offenders will be phased out. The agency will also cut $300,000 worth of contracts with two agencies who provide housing and treatment for juvenile status offenders — those who are truant, unruly or runaways.
Gateway Children's Services in Mt. Sterling is one of two agencies whose contract to provide services for juvenile offenders will be cut. It has 24 beds that are always full, said Kaye Jones Templin, the executive director of Gateway.
Templin does not understand how the state can cut Gateway and other agencies' contracts to provide services for status offenses because the state has run afoul of the U.S. Department of Justice in the past for locking up truants and runaways in state-run juvenile facilities instead of putting them in programs such as Gateways'.
"I've had state troopers race each other so they can get the last bed," Templin said.
Without the $150,000 in state funding, Gateway would close in three or four months, Templin said.
Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said it is up to a judge to decide where youth are placed, but she insisted the department would not put status offenders in state-run facilities.
Meanwhile, county officials were dismayed that Brown said more than $600,000 in money earmarked to offset costs to counties for the housing of state inmates will get slashed on Jan. 1. Counties will continue to receive a per diem — or daily cost reimbursement — for housing state inmates, Brown said.
Counties will have a difficult time absorbing the loss of those funds, said Vince Lang, executive director of the Kentucky County Judge Executive Association. Counties already operate jails at a $130 million loss.
"We've got counties that are on the brink of bankruptcy and most of it is because of the (cost) of the jails," Lang said.
Les Beavers, the commissioner of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said his agency cannot afford to cut many staff because more than 90 percent are employed at the state's three veterans nursing homes. Still, he will likely have to lay off seven non-nursing home employees and not fill critical positions in his nursing homes. Beavers also hopes to furlough his employees for five days instead of three, which Beshear has proposed for all state workers.