by District 19 State Representative Michael Lee Meredith
April 15th was the 60th and final legislative day of the 2016 General Assembly, and we were able to take care of some much-needed business in Frankfort.
First and foremost, the top priority this year has been crafting a biennial budget for the Commonwealth. This is the most important constitutional responsibility of our legislature, and is something that all of our members and staff have worked tirelessly to finish. Although this budget does not represent all of our ideas, and required some compromise from both sides of the aisle and both chambers, I still feel confident that we were able to accomplish our main objective: fully funding our state’s ailing pension systems.
KTRS and KRS, the pension systems that cover our teachers and state workers, have faced tough times in recent years and currently face a near $38 billion liability. House Republicans led the way on the discussion to fund pensions without borrowing large amounts of money. This forward-looking approach led members of both parties to come together and make the biggest pension contribution in the history of our state. Totaling nearly $1.3 Billion, this unprecedented contribution is a bold step in protecting the retirement of our teachers and state workers.
While past budgets have resulted in as little money as possible going to the pensions of our state workers and teachers, Governor Bevin and our caucus have changed the conversation. This leadership led us to a solution where we were able to dedicate every dollar possible to keeping our promises to Kentucky’s teachers and state employees.
Another piece of the budget that strongly reflects our priorities is the removal of proposed cuts in K-12 education. The budget that finally passed restored funding to support programs like family resource and youth service centers as well as to community education programs. It also provided for the removal of cuts to our preschool programs. We are proud to stand behind the next generation of Kentucky students in funding these crucial programs.
Public safety has been a focus of this budget since the first day of this session and I am also proud to report that paid firefighters and police officers will receive increases to their training incentives and volunteer fire departments will get nearly $3,000 more each year in state aid funding to help purchase equipment if they meet their training requirements. Also, funding cuts that were inadvertently applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs were removed giving full funding to state programs for our Veterans. The only disappointment in this area of the budget was the removal of language contained in an amendment that I presented and passed on the House floor to commit to funding the Veterans nursing home in Bowling Green that will serve all of South Central Kentucky. After leading the charge to get this included in the budget I was very disappointed to see this language removed during negotiations between the two chambers. However, we will continue working to make this important project a reality, sooner rather than later.
Another part of state government that is now fully funded is our important Judicial Branch. While the original budget proposal from House Leadership included crippling cuts to our court systems, our caucus has been fighting since day one to maintain current support levels.
As Chief Justice John Minton stated repeatedly, these cuts would have not only forced hundreds of layoffs, but also would have forced important programs such as our drug courts to come to a screeching halt. In a time where our Commonwealth faces a heavy drug epidemic and stiff economic headwinds, our caucus was proud to stand up for the needs of Kentucky’s court systems.
Whether it is K-12 public education, our court systems, public safety or the Commonwealth’s struggling pension crisis, this budget strongly reflects our priorities. We have put our best foot forward, and that bold step has resulted in a budget that meets the needs and keeps our promises to Kentucky’s taxpayers and families.
If you would like to stay up-to-date on all legislative issue as the session wraps up and we move into the interim, you can visit www.lrc.ky.gov or call the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at (866) 840-2835. As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. You can reach me either at Michael.Meredith@lrc.ky.gov or by calling (800) 372-7181.