by State Rep. Michael Lee Meredith
The focal point of the 2016 Legislative Session is the Executive Branch budget, which took one more step this week in the legislative process as it passed the Kentucky House of Representatives on a strict party line vote. Due to the fact that copies of the over 200 page bill were not given to members until the morning of the vote, giving only a few short hours to study the proposal, and the fact that majority leadership shut down the consideration of all but one amendment, 47 of the 100 House members abstained from voting on the bill.
Early this week I was part of a group that introduced a budget plan for the next two years. We worked tirelessly to present a budget which will address our pension liability, while living within our means. Our budget plan, and other adjustments, enabled us to present a plan that would restore funding to many important programs in the Commonwealth, without increasing debt or filling holes in the budget with one time money.
The budget group I was a part of included the restoration of cuts to several important areas, including education, coal severance, local jails, public protection, and veteran’s services, to name a few. Specifically the proposal included language increasing state aid funding for volunteer fire departments from $8250 a year to $11,000 a year and language which commits to funding the state’s cost share for a new veteran’s nursing home in Bowling Green. This project is on a national priority funding list, but Kentucky must commit to its cost share before the project can move forward.
Prior to announcing our full budget plan, our budget group also introduced a plan to pay down the unfunded liabilities of public pensions and provide long-term stability to current and future retirees. The funding source will in no way borrow any additional money, but will be provided from current and future revenue projections, and without using any funds from the Permanent Fund the Governor proposed to address future pension and employee healthcare issues.
The new pension plan model will follow strict guidelines and must be established in law to be permanent and effective. Pension plans must provide stability to the systems and their members, they must be elastic, and not be a set percentage of payroll. The plan we proposed will be less expensive and less risky than an approach that relies on bonding.
Despite our budget and pension plans, House Majority Leadership chose to pass a different proposal. The $21 billion budget plan in House Bill 303, approved in the chamber by a vote of 53-0, retains the budget stabilization cuts for most state agencies as proposed by Governor Matt Bevin. The plan does not include the “Kentucky Permanent Fund” proposed by the Governor to fund pensions and employee healthcare in the future. That fund would have received a transfer of $500 million over the biennium, however this one time money is used to pay recurring expenses in the version of HB 303 that was passed this week.
This is a broad overview of the House budget proposal, which is now in the Senate’s hands and will be amended before the session ends. As is the usual practice, the budget proposal will go to a conference committee where House and Senate will attempt to negotiate their differences.
Only three House bills had made it to the Governor’s desk for his signature as of Thursday morning. They are:
- HB 204, which would allow graduation from a nonaccredited or noncertified school meeting standards set by the Department of Education, a GED, or graduation from the external diploma program to cover the high school graduation requirement for law enforcement personnel.
- HB 175, signed by the Governor on March 7, which was sponsored by me and provides updated references to federal agencies regarding federal peace officers who are granted concurrent state authority.
- HB 237, signed by the Governor on March 14, which clarifies local property tax exemptions for data centers.
The next five legislative days will be spent working on required legislation, like the budget, and passing other bills that lawmakers see as priorities. The following week will look quite different: March 28 and 29 are marked on the legislative calendar as “concurrence” days, which means they are intended only for floor passage of bills from the opposite chamber—the House would only consider Senate bills, and vice versa. The Governor’s veto recess is scheduled to follow for 10 days, excluding Sundays, beginning on March 30, with the final two days of session still scheduled for April 11 and 12.
As always, I welcome your comments and concerns on any issues facing our Commonwealth during the 2016 Regular Session. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or you can contact me via email at Michael.Meredith@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.