FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Business was anything but usual at the Capitol during the 51st day of the 2020 Regular Session.
Lawmakers did pass a one-year budget to keep Kentucky up and running during the pandemic. Being united under "Team Kentucky" was stressed by members from both parties. When the House gaveled in, the chamber was mostly empty. That's due to new rules in a social distancing age, as representatives entered sporadically to pick up hand sanitizer and paper ballots. Some were wearing masks and gloves and all were standing a safe distance.
"Everybody is in uncharted waters, but we're working all together to get this done,and fulfill our constitutional duty," Rep. Patti Minter (D-Bowling Green) said.
Representative Minter and most of the legislative members picked up their ballots and returned to their offices.
"We're going to watch the proceedings on KET like everyone else, and then we're going to call a designated person in leadership and let them know what our votes are," Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) said.
"We're really trying to help people directly and we can do that here. We can also do that from home," Rep. McKenzie Cantrell (D-Louisville) said.
The House waited on the Senate as they deliberated House Bill 252 in a mostly-full chamber. Senators were sitting a good distance from each other as they discussed, then voted.
Many who spoke acknowledged how different circumstances were when budgets were first proposed in the past few months. Originally, it projected higher revenue, fewer cuts, and there would even be some raises for some state employees. With the spread of COVID-19, everything in the landscape has changed, but a budget still had to be passed.
On Tuesday, budget negotiators proposed an "unprecedented" one-year budget, instead of the usual two-year budget.
"But you know, it's necessary because we can't even project what's going to happen with revenues for next month, much less two years in advance. So I think that's the responsible way to handle it," Nemes said.
"If you really think about what we're doing, we're taking a shot in the dark. A total shot in the dark," Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Clay) said.
Stivers told the chamber he even thought about voting no.
"Right now, if you think that what we have budgeted to, about $11.6 billion dollars, our current year revenues will probably be lucky to hit $11.4 billion," Stivers said.
"Assembled with the best information we have at this time, and indeed Mr. President, that information is changing literally by the day," Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Scott) said.
Stivers and Thayer both voted yes, as did Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey. The Louisville Democrat echoed sentiments that this is not a perfect budget, but one must be passed to keep the state running.
"In a time where we must pass a budget with no days remaining, I think this is one we should look at passing," McGarvey said.
Lexington Democrat Senator Reggie Thomas also approved the budget.
"I think it's time to seriously consider, as legislative leaders, having annual budgets. Because we need that flexibility. We need that quickness to deal with the changing times, the changing circumstances, the changing events that we encounter," Sen. Thomas said.
The Senate unanimously approved the budget, and it passed the House 80-10.
Lexington Democrat Representative Kelly Flood voted "no" from her car. LEX 18 reached out to Rep. Flood, who gave two reasons for her vote.
"This one-year budget missed the opportunity to add vital new revenues from online e-sports. And, no expanded Michelle P. waivers for our most vulnerable citizens," Flood said.
Rep. Nemes voted yes on the budget, but also worries about the vulnerable in Kentucky as the impact of COVID-19 spreads.
"When businesses and employees don't have payroll, they don't have checks. They don't have to pay taxes. That's less money in the state revenues, and so those social programs are going to take a big hit next year," Nemes said.
The new budget maintains the current level of per-pupil funding under SEEK, the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools. It provides no pay raises for teachers or state workers. It continues most spending at current levels but allows cuts as necessary depending on revenue trends.
The final spending plan provides no pay raises for teachers or state employees. It continues most spending at current levels but allows cuts as necessary depending on revenue trends.
It fully funds required contributions for public pension systems. It features another one-year freeze on contribution rates for regional universities and community social services agencies that faced sharply higher pension costs. Funding is included to cushion the agencies from those higher costs.
The bill now heads to Governor Beshear's desk.