FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Gov. Matt Bevin is proposing the elimination of 70 state government programs to free up money for his administration's top priorities including retirement systems for teachers and government workers, to purchase new cruisers and weapons for state troopers, and to hire additional prosecutors and public defenders to eliminate a backlog of court cases.
Bevin didn’t specify which programs are on the chopping block in a speech Tuesday to a joint session of the House and Senate, but he said they will be scattered throughout state government.
“You have to take the money from somewhere,” he said. The specific cuts, he said, will be outlined in a two-year budget, covering 2019 and 2020, that he’ll present to lawmakers Wednesday.
Bevin said his budget aims to get the state’s finances in order and calls for difficult choices to be made to deal with Kentucky’s massive pension liability, which he estimated at $60 billion.
Bevin said some of the spending cuts he proposed could be avoided if lawmakers pass meaningful pension reform during the current legislative session.
Projections call for modest revenue growth of 2.7 percent or $287.5 million in 2019 and 2.6 percent or $284.1 million in 2020.
Bevin’s proposal would provide $1 billion for the retirement fund of state employees and nearly $2.3 billion for teacher retirement over the two-year period. In all, about 14.5 percent of General Fund revenue would be dedicated to retirement.
“This year, they will be funded in their entirely for the first time in the history of the commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said.
The governor also is proposing $34 million to combat Kentucky’s opioid addiction crisis.
"The opioid crisis is exploding and it's not getting better," he said.
While the budget proposal protects the state’s per-student contributions to public education, it also would require school districts to help pay for their employees’ health insurance and to use their local reserve funds. Those funds, he said, total nearly $1 billion and can be used to help with the cost of educating children and paying teachers.
Bevin’s proposal also calls on local boards to cut administrative costs and move those dollars into the classroom.
The budget calls for another $100 million bond pool to support workforce investment across the state. A similar bond pool was established two years ago.
Bevin proposed spending $24 million to increase salaries of child-protection workers and to add additional child-protection workers in Kentucky. The salary increases begin in July, giving them six months to get the right people in place, he said.
"It's destroying them to be suffocated by a caseload that continues to grow," he said.
Adoption and foster care would receive $10.8 million because of problems the state is having with more children being removed from homes because of abuse or neglect.
"We're going to fix our foster care and adoption system," Bevin said.
Bevin hired Dan Dumas as an adoption czar last year to make recommendations but has terminated the lucrative position after seven months.
The budget proposal provides funding for 75 new prosecutors and 51 public advocates, a move intended to reduce a backlog of cases in the courts. It also provides funding to replace “dangerous and worn out state police cruisers and rifles,” and invests in an updated communications system for law enforcement.
KSP Commissioner Richard W. Sanders told lawmakers in October that the state’s financial crunch has has taken a toll on his agency’s equipment.
“We had a trooper responding a few months ago to a fellow trooper who had been stabbed,” Sanders told members of a legislative committee in October. ““On the way to that stabbing, the transmission went out. The car had nearly 200,000 miles. He ended up getting out of his car and running toward the scene. Fortunately, he was picked up by another trooper who was en route.”
Bevin’s budget proposal recommends “the complete elimination of almost 70 programs” and requires across-the-board cuts of 6.25 percent of all others. He said there is simply not enough money to cover pension costs while funding every government program.
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said there were a lot of bipartisan issues but he expressed some issues with education.
“I am concerned when you start talking about our administrators, who came up through the education system. It’s really important that we have quality administrators in our school systems.”
He also had reservations about school districts dipping into their reserve funds.
“I don’t know how that’s going to work,” he said. “There may be some school districts that have big reserve funds, but in rural Kentucky school districts are probably underneath a statute that requires a ten percent reserve. I worry about those districts that don’t have hardly any reserve.”
Adkins said he’s ready to work on those bipartisan projects that were addressed.
“I’m anxious to get this budget, I’m anxious to look at it. Where we can work with the Governor on things like foster care and adoption, public protection, helping our law enforcement. The opioid crisis. Those are areas we can work together.”
Sen. President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, on cutting administrative personnel
“We were told by the Governor’s staff that several central office staffs were running anywhere from 30-40 percent of their payroll. We need to look at something more in the 15 percent range. I agree with that, as the dollars need to be in the classroom.”
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, was asked if he knew which 70 programs Bevin was going to cut, since they had a budget briefing Tuesday afternoon.
“We have not seen any of those programs specifically. Only have heard the term ‘70’ as you have. Without commenting on any specific program, I think it’s a positive step that we are targeting where these reductions will be, as opposed to just broad-brush, across the board cuts.”