Gov. Matt Bevin has said many times that we must not make our children and grandchildren pay for today’s problems.
Kentucky lawmakers should use that as a guide as they negotiate a budget. Their decisions can harm our children and grandchildren in many ways.
The 9 percent cuts that Bevin and the Senate are seeking, for example, would shift ever more of the cost of education onto already indebted college students and their families and deprive low-income children of programs that help them succeed.
Remember these cuts, coming on top of years of devastating cuts, are not necessary because of a recession or weak revenue, as in the recent past.
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These cuts are intended to increase state government’s financial reserves.
Meanwhile, the education deficit that Kentucky has worked so hard to trim would grow.
A University of Kentucky economist reports that if Kentucky’s education levels were at the national average, annual state revenue would be up by as much as $500 million and Medicaid costs lower by $200 million. While other states reinvest in colleges and universities, Kentucky keeps eroding support for higher education. If that’s not betraying the future, nothing is.
Likewise, disabling the court system, especially the drug courts that are diverting 2,500 Kentuckians from prison at this moment, will end up costing far more than it saves and deprive some children of ever having a functioning parent.
Further decimating public health, environmental protection and the state fund for preserving natural lands — a fund supported by purchases of nature license plates — will carry health costs and diminish the quality of life for our children, grandchildren and beyond.
Lawmakers took the public pension crisis seriously. The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate both put $1 billion-plus into pensions, which is more than the $846 million recommended by Bevin, though the chambers differ on how to distribute the money among pension funds.
The House budget also protects higher education and much of elementary and secondary education from cuts by putting less in reserves ($283 million) than the amounts idled for reserves and future pension payments by Bevin ($1 billion-plus) and the Senate ($621 million).
Senate Republicans boast that their budget breaks the state’s long habit of using one-time money to pay recurring expenses. We’re not sure that’s the case since a one-time surplus in the state employees health insurance fund would pay for present and future pension payments.
In any case, it’s a hollow victory to structurally balance the budget not through a more robust economy and reforming tax loopholes but by mortgaging the future in ways large and small.
The House budget makes more families eligible for child-care subsidies (Kentucky has some of the nation’s stingiest) and more children eligible for preschool — an example of investing in the future.
The Senate ditched $3 million that was in the House budget for Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children and $1 million for a renovation project at the Kentucky School for the Blind — making children pay. The Senate also shifts money the House put into need-based financial aid to a new merit-based KEES scholarships.
Neither House nor Senate provided funding for a smart program approved by lawmakers last year to help older Kentuckians obtain home care faster, thus reducing nursing home admissions and Medicaid costs. The budget should support faster home care because not taking care of their elders also burdens our children and grandchildren.
Kentucky’s future is ill served by more public divestment. We implore lawmakers to invest as much as they can where it will do the most good, in educating young Kentuckians.