By Scott Payton
LRC Public Information
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 24, 2014) — A governor’s Budget Address is a momentary snapshot defining a version of reality. It has also, for ten years or more, been a painful picture from a bad family trip, often rock-back-on-your heels disturbing.
But it’s also the necessary opening statement in a discussion that will consume Frankfort’s deep Capitol winter, throwing terms of debate on the table, and saying ‘Now what?’ Only the Legislature can write the budget. The governor can just propose.
So now we launch.
The limited money available is explained. The felt needs and priorities are laid out, with challenges to make you sigh. That’s what happened in a joint session Tuesday night, with 138 lawmakers packed in the House Chamber to hear a fifty-minute gubernatorial speech that told the terms of their coming, bloody budget work.
A budget’s like an amoeba, moving but soft, not hard and fast. The state Constitution requires it to be balanced. But there’s tricks to do that. Not long ago, state employees were paid one day late at the end of the Fiscal Year. It saved enough money to keep the previous year in balance. That’s called ‘structural imbalance.’ There’s not really enough money for what everyone wants. But we do one-time stuff to patch the holes.
The governor proposed a form of that legerdemain this year in the face of our drearily predictable shortfalls. It will balance the budget. But some may feel pain.
The tactic? Take money from one place to put another. The newspapers call it ‘raiding funds.’
The budget before us targets 51 government funds specified for certain things to move $370 million to the General Fund, to kick start funding for K-12 education — a main gubernatorial priority — and give state workers and teachers long-lost and longed-for raises.
Examples: $93 million from the Public Employee Health Insurance Trust Fund (which is said to be sound and able to absorb that) to comparatively minor nips like $100,000 from the Board of Chiropractic Examiners.
Actual plain spending cuts total $99 million, proposed. State universities would stare down the barrel of a 2.5 percent cut, though bonded debt for construction on campuses statewide might alleviate the sting. Other state agencies, many of them, face 5 percent cuts. Another grim picture in a steady march of cuts stretching back years.
Budget officials in Frankfort say fund transfers are a normal and accepted practice in the budgeting process, and have been routine in past years. Still, this year’s transfers seem to have significant scope. They reflect the gravity of this session’s challenge: Though revenues are indeed trending up, the proposed new commitment to education — $474.4 million in new money for elementary and secondary education — means something has to give, given the pension and Medicaid obligation already claimed.
House budget review subcommittees are assembling. The January’s-end filing deadline is near. This General Assembly is about to get deeply real, real fast.
Log on to lrc.ky.gov for the latest on the status of bills, meeting schedules, and other information to help you be a participating citizen of the commonwealth.
Subscribe to email updates by visiting lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm
Stay in touch with General Assembly action these ways:
♦ A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.
♦ To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.
♦ To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.
♦ You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.
Your input is needed, welcome and crucial to the success of this continuing experiment is representative democracy, and lawmakers welcome your calls.