Covering Kentucky

Dec 17, 2013 9:14 PM

Beshear Says Education Is Top Priority For Session

FRANKFORT. (AP) - Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday he's determined to pump more state money into education and is willing to push for unspecified budget cuts to find money for schools.

Looking ahead to the 2014 General Assembly session, Beshear said the state needs to begin restoring funding cuts made during the recession to prevent any backsliding in education. The session starting in January will be dominated by work on a new two-year state budget.

"I am determined to reinvest in education with this upcoming budget," the Democratic governor said while meeting with reporters in his Capitol office. "So if I have to cut some other areas to do it, then that's what I'm going to do."

Beshear didn't mention possible targets for cuts but said "everything is on the table" as he puts together the two-year spending plan that will be the starting point for lawmakers in crafting a budget.

His talk of reinvesting in education comes amid a sobering outlook for the next budget.

Beshear's budget director has said estimates of new revenue in the first year of the next two-year budget cycle will come up far short of funding requirements for such big-ticket items as pensions and Medicaid, as well as other needs such as teacher and state employee raises.

Economists serving on the Consensus Forecasting Group have projected modest growth over the next two years in state General Fund revenue as Kentucky continues a slow rebound from recession. Beshear predicted the next estimate in coming days will be similar.

"Based upon those revenue estimates, we're going to have an extremely tight budget situation, and if we are going to be able to reinvest in education at all, it will require some cuts in other areas," he said.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday recently warned that school districts would have to cut teachers and teaching assistants if lawmakers fail to restore school funding cuts.

The Department of Education has asked lawmakers for $336 million more in state funding for the 2014-16 budget to restore funding to pre-recession levels. Holliday has said tax reform and expanded gambling could provide more revenue for the state to use for education.

Beshear praised Holliday and other education leaders for being outspoken on school funding.

"We are approaching a point, I'm afraid, where if we can't begin to reinvest and start building back some of the things that have been lost in funding for education, then we're going to lose this momentum that we have," the governor said.

Beshear said Tuesday he'll push for lawmakers to consider expanded gambling and a tax overhaul in the upcoming session. But the governor said he won't include any assumed revenue from casino gambling or tax changes in the budget plan he presents to lawmakers.

"We may well point out what could be done if we had more revenue," he added.

Beshear made expanded gambling a main theme of his first successful campaign for governor in 2007, but he's been unable to get a measure legalizing casino gambling in Kentucky through the legislature.

Now in his second term, Beshear said he sees encouraging signs. Measures to put casino gambling on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment have been drafted for the upcoming legislative session.

"I don't harbor false hopes, but I'm encouraged that for the first time we're getting some very meaningful conversations from both sides of the aisle in both houses," Beshear said. "I'm hoping that we can continue to develop that and find some common ground to move forward."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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