by Rep. Michael Lee Meredith:
Frankfort missed out on the snow that blanketed much of the state last week. While it disappointed some, it allowed legislative work to continue uninterrupted.
Executive Branch Budget: Late Thursday afternoon the House voted 85-8 to approve what I think is a strong, responsible budget for the next two fiscal years. This plan, HB 1 HCS has one of the lowest debt ratios of any budget I’ve seen passed during my time in Frankfort and it adds significant money to the budget reserve trust fund to protect us from future economic downturns. The budget also leaves over $1 billion unappropriated, giving us the opportunity to explore ideas like meaningful tax modernization that would lower the burden on our taxpayers and entice people and businesses to move to Kentucky and other game changing investments in our Commonwealth’s future.
The bill provides record funding for public education including increases to SEEK funding, transportation funding, FRYSC funding and state dollars to fund full-day kindergarten. This budget also prioritizes public safety by funding significant raises for state troopers and dispatchers. It increases the training stipend for local police officers and firefighters and raises the amount of state aid funding for volunteer fire departments. It also helps relieve the burden our jails are placing on counties all across Kentucky by providing additional funding. However I’m most proud of 4 significant projects that are being funded in Edmonson County and Warren County. The budget provides $10 Million to Edmonson County High School to renovate and expand our vocational department, $8.3 Million to the Bowling Green Independent School District to renovate their vocational department, $75 million to Western Kentucky University to build a new Gordon Ford College of Business and funding to operate the Bowling Green Veterans Nursing Home so that it can welcome veterans from our region after construction is complete. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Transportation Budget: This budget represents the administrative costs associated with operating the state’s Transportation Cabinet and includes some funds for maintenance in our state. We will consider the plan for new infrastructure projects when we vote on the 6-year road plan later this session. The sponsor of HB 241 refers to this measure as “the beginning of the end of underfunding our state’s transportation needs” and it represents a commitment to improving the safety and efficiency of our road systems. The bill provides the Transportation Cabinet an operating budget of $200 million in General Fund, $200 million in restricted funds, and $1.6 billion in road funds each fiscal year. It includes $50 million in each year for a special grant to help local governments with road maintenance. I am particularly pleased to see it replaces over $180 million in allocations formerly charged to the road fund with general fund dollars and moves that amount to the Maintenance Account. For too long the state has used road fund monies for services not associated with roads. It may all be state money, but this change ensures transportation dollars are spent on transportation.
Many of the 16 legislative committees met this week and sent legislation to the House floor for further consideration. Committees are critical to the legislative process because they provide an opportunity for members to ask detailed questions and give legislation a thorough review. Legislation that cleared committees this week includes:
Incentives for Rural Job Creation: The House Agriculture Committee approved a proposed dubbed the “Rural Jobs Act” aimed at creating jobs in communities with a population under 50,000. House Bill 308 would grant an investor who has been qualified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Small Business Administration the chance to compete for a pool of tax credits in hopes of enticing further investment in rural communities around the state. The tax credit would expire in 2029 – which means the legislature would have to determine if it is an effective tool before renewing it.
Protecting Kentuckians Personal Banking Information: Members of the Banking and Insurance Committee approved HCR 12, sponsored by my colleague Bart Rowland and I. The legislation is aimed at bringing awareness to a Biden administration proposal that would require banks and other financial institutions to report to the IRS information about incoming and outgoing transactions from every customer’s account violating the financial privacy of the customers. The measure also sends a formal request to Congress to reject the proposal on behalf of Kentucky consumers.
Bringing Efficiency to School Construction: Anyone who has ever been involved in a construction project of any kind knows that delays can be one of the biggest cost-drivers. The Local Government Committee voted for a measure that seeks to save some time and make the school construction process more efficient by allowing local plan review, inspection and enforcement on educational facilities under certain circumstances.
As always, I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Feel free to contact me via email at Michael.Meredith@lrc.ky.gov. If you would like more information, please visit the LRC website www.legislature.ky.gov.