For the first time since 2006, the Kentucky General Assembly has passed the state budget in regular session.
Titled House Bill 265, the measure passed last Friday 36-1 in the Senate and 81-7 in the House and now falls on Gov. Steve Beshear’s desk seeking his final approval.
Beshear has 10 days to either sign or veto the bill, with the final day of the regular session scheduled for April 12, in which the Assembly can override any vetoes performed by the governor.
The two-year plan calls for $19 billion in total state expenditures, but is headlined with an 8.4 percent cut to several state programs and a 6.4 percent reduction in funding to state universities, including Murray State.
The passed budget is a far cry from the governor’s original submitted in early January, but legislators and negotiators agreed on this budget based on compromise.
Provisions in HB 265 include $21 million to hire 300 social workers, increased funding for services for the intellectually disabled, additional funding for the Meals on Wheels program, $3.5 million for the Kentucky Horse Park and $2.5 million for improvements on Rupp Arena and downtown Lexington.
Originally proposed in the first budget draft, the compromise nixes pay raises for state employees and removes a 1.5 percent increase on the cost of living for state retirees. Base funding for K-12 education also survived the cutting floor and made it into the new budget untouched.
The compromise between the House, Senate and governor involved the state’s ability to incur more debt and the proposal of funding state projects with coal severance tax.
Negotiations determined the state would take on no more than $400 million in new debt, and state projects involving coal severance tax, namely funding Appalachia colleges, would also fund western coal counties.
In a written statement, Beshear said while he was disappointed with the cuts made to the budget, he was pleased to see most of his budget survive in Assembly and make it back to his desk in one piece.
“As I said in January, this is the most difficult budget I have ever crafted, and it will be the most difficult for our state to endure,” Beshear said. “However, I am pleased that the state legislature has kept my budget proposal largely intact — a signal that our management decisions and investments in the health and education of Kentuckians are wise ones.”
According to the state Constitution, the Kentucky General Assembly is required to pass a budget on a biennium basis. The budget is a basic outline and financial plan for state spending for general and/or specific purposes.
Using information provided by state agencies that describes financial needs and obligations, the governor forms an initial spending plan and submits the general recommendations to the Kentucky General Assembly for ratification between both the Senate and the House.
Bob Jackson, vice president of Internal Affairs, said the 6.4 percent budget cut equates to a $3.2 million in losses over a two-year period for Murray State.
“The appropriated support for public higher education across the country continues to be reduced in most states,” Jackson said. “While Kentucky has fared better than many states, these recent cuts continue to be disappointing.”
Regardless of the cuts, Jackson said the University will continue striving for campus improvements and seek to soften the blow of the budgets impending cuts in education.
“Our No. 1 capital construction project is the completion of the final phase of the new science campus and specifically the Engineering and Physics Building,” Jackson said. “We will continue to work very hard in advancing this project with key legislators in order to complete this project.”