Covering Frankfort

Mar 7, 2012 10:02 PM

Kentucky House Passes State Budget That Imposes Cuts

FRANKFORT. (AP) - With Kentucky rebounding slowly from economic recession, the House passed a $19.5 billion biennial budget Wednesday that imposes 8.4 percent cuts on most state agencies.

Even some 200,000 state and local government retirees took hits when lawmakers erased 1.5 percent cost-of-living increases from their monthly pension payments.

"This budget is a reflection of the times we've been living in for the past 3-1/2 years," said House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. "During these tough economic times, I think we can stand up and say we did the best we could."

The House voted 78-17 to pass the budget, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Gov. Steve Beshear declared "the day of reckoning has come" when he presented his budget proposal to lawmakers last month calling for 8.4 percent cuts to most agencies. Only education, public safety and a handful of other programs would be spared under his plan to close a $742 million shortfall.

State Rep. Rick Rand, chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said Beshear's budget went largely unchanged, with some notable exceptions.

The House extended the 8.4 percent cuts to the state judicial system, just weeks after Supreme Court justices struck down a legislative redistricting plan as unconstitutional. The legislature took the same level of cuts.

The House budget also whittled Beshear's proposal for some $950 million in new debt down to $350 million. Rand said House lawmakers also removed from Beshear's budget proposal several construction projects at the state's public universities, even though those projects were being paid for without General Fund appropriations.

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, called the budget "inadequate" in several ways.

"This is not fat that has been cut from the budget," Wayne said. "There is no fat. This is going to cause pain."

House lawmakers recommended additional spending in some high-priority areas, including nearly $4.3 million over the next two fiscal years to expand the state's prescription drug monitoring program. Rand, D-Bedford, said he believes that program, known as KASPER, is a crucial tool in helping combat prescription drug abuse in the state.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has championed an expansion of KASPER to monitor patients who seek inordinate amounts of prescriptions and unscrupulous doctors who dole them out. He also wants to put the attorney general's office in charge of KASPER, which now is overseen by a social service agency.

The House also approved Beshear's proposed tax amnesty plan that lawmakers believe could collect $55 million over the next two years. It would be the state's first offer of tax amnesty in a decade, and would forgive some penalties if people come forward and pay their taxes.

The state also would step up collections by hiring 85 additional Department of Revenue staffers to find delinquent taxpayers.

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The legislation is House Bill 265.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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