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Democratic Gov. Beshear blasts Kentucky House Republicans' spending plan

Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear denounced House Republicans' spending plan, claiming it is insufficient to fund education, Medicaid, natural disaster response, and state employees.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday tore into a state spending plan unveiled by House Republicans, saying it falls far short of what's needed for Kentucky schools, juvenile justice, health care and other essential services at a time of big budget surpluses.

In his first skirmish with GOP lawmakers since winning reelection last year, Beshear said the House's two-year spending plan would bring on needless red tape, hamstring the state's response to natural disasters and significantly cut its government workforce.

"There's a lot to work on," he said while contrasting his budget blueprint with the GOP House version.


Asked for a response later Thursday, Republican House Speaker David Osborne said: "It will come as no shock to anybody within earshot of this that there's no way in the world we're ever going to spend as much as the governor wants to."

The House spending proposals were introduced on Tuesday. House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Jason Petrie said at the time that it "continues our commitment to investing in our commonwealth's future while prioritizing responding spending that aims to efficiently allocate resources while maintaining essential public services."

Two days later, the Democratic governor found plenty of problems with it, including key elements for public education. Beshear said the House plan would funnel $1.1 billion less into the state’s main funding formula for public K-12 schools — known as SEEK — than he proposed.

He blasted the House GOP plan for not guaranteeing pay raises for teachers and all other public school employees and for its lack of funding to provide access to preschool for every Kentucky 4-year-old. Both were cornerstones of Beshear’s budget plan, which called for an 11% raise for school employees.

That universal pre-K proposal is essential to meeting Kentuckians' child care needs, he said. Enrolling every 4-year-old in state-supported preschools would free up more slots in daycares for younger children and would help many parents reenter the workforce, the governor said.

"Just giving a blanket investment in child care without universal pre-K is not going to add one childcare slot anywhere in Kentucky," Beshear said. "It’s not going to solve any of the child care desert issues. You’ve got to do them together if we want to have a real impact."

The big pay raise is needed to attract and retain teachers as states compete to staff classrooms, he said.

The House plan would leave it up to school districts to decide whether to use additional state funding to award pay raises to teachers and other staff. It reflects requests from school superintendents that they be given spending flexibility, Osborne said Wednesday.

"We try not to micromanage those things, especially when it comes to their budgets," he said.

The House measure includes language strongly encouraging districts to award raises. And it includes provisions to track salary decisions by districts. It would add "a layer of accountability with a reporting requirement that makes salary schedules, compensation increases ... easily available," Petrie said.


In methodically picking apart the House plan, Beshear said it would underfund the state's Medicaid program, which serves poor and disabled people. It fails to fund safety upgrades at juvenile detention centers and would halt efforts to shore up staffing in those centers, he said.

The House plan also would put limits on funding to respond to emergencies and natural disasters, he said. The amount of money available under the bill "wouldn’t get us through an ice storm," Beshear said.

It could force a governor to call lawmakers into a special session to obtain the necessary funding, he said. Kentucky was pounded by natural disasters during Beshear's first term when tornadoes hit western Kentucky in late 2021 and flooding inundated sections of eastern Kentucky in 2022.

Some of Beshear's harshest comments in his review were aimed at the potential impact on the state's workforce and the paperwork it would create for his administration. The House budget would dramatically reduce state personnel by eliminating funding for up to 95% of vacant positions, he said.

"This is just taking a hatchet and hacking at the executive branch without even looking," Beshear said.

The House measure would snarl his administration in red tape, he said, by requiring that quarterly reports be submitted to the legislature for virtually every executive branch action. He called it an unworkable attempt to micromanage the executive branch.

"This is the type of red tape that prevents things from getting done in government," Beshear said.

One looming decision for lawmakers is what to do, if anything, with the state's massive budget reserves amid strong revenue collections. House Republicans have proposed tapping those reserves to make one-time investments totaling more than $1.7 billion for infrastructure, public safety and economic development and to help pay down unfunded liabilities in public pension systems.

With the budget process in its early stages, the governor said hopes changes will be made — either in the House or when the executive branch budget measure goes to the Senate. But with supermajorities in both chambers, Republican lawmakers will determine the final contents of the state budget.

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