FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Gov. Andy Beshear outlined his first budget to lawmakers on Tuesday prioritizing education, health care and protecting children.
"It is a budget that not only ends years of painful cuts, it also makes a major investment in public education, fully funds expanded Medicaid, makes a historic investment in protecting our children, directs dollars to breaking cycles of poverty, and I believe will move us forward as a people,” Beshear said in his first budget address Tuesday night at the Kentucky Capitol.
The budget includes a $2000 raise for teachers, 1% SEEK per pupil funding increase providing an additional $87.5 million for public schools, $11 million each year for new textbooks, $18.2 million for school security upgrades, and ending more than a decade of repeated and deep cuts to higher education.
“There are finally dollars to start reinvesting in our families,” Beshear said. “Let me be clear, these dollars are limited, and they won’t undo the pain of the last 14 years all at once. So we must invest wisely and we must lead with our values. To me, those values must begin with public education. And that is exactly where this education first budget starts: Public education is the key to breaking cycles of poverty.”
The budget also includes funding for an additional 350 social workers, $5 million each year for preschool programs in disadvantaged areas and $1 million each year, which would leverage millions more in federal funds, to enroll more children in the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program (KCHIP).
“Health care is a basic human right and it is our responsibility to sign every Kentucky child up for some form of health coverage,” Beshear said.
To pay for it, the administration wants to dip into four buckets, one of which is new revenue. That is assuming the sports betting bill will pass, as well as a proposed cigarette tax and vaping tax. However, Senate President Robert Stivers said it was the first time he had heard of how Beshear's plan will be funded.
"The first time we had any knowledge of the subject was an hour ago," Stivers noted.
Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne aimed their frustration mostly at the process, noting Beshear held a briefing for media earlier in the day, but lawmakers had no advanced knowledge of it.
"Not a single legislator in the body, majority or minority, was briefed on this budget prior to it hitting the floor a little while ago. I find that a bit disconcerting," Osborne said.
Osborne also voiced concern over the fact that Beshear's budget doesn't go far enough on school safety, noting it only addresses the $18 million dollars for school building upgrades.
"I think to ignore the mental health side of this is woefully short," Osborne added.
Ultimately, as both leaders made clear, tonight was just a proposal and the Republican legislature has the final say.