FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Governor Andy Beshear delivered his budget address on Thursday, the culmination of a week filled with news conferences discussing parts of his full budget. The budget covered pledges to invest in education, healthcare, and new jobs.
The governor said this budget is a “value statement…titled ‘Our Future is Now.' Now is our chance to move this state forward -- not right, not left but forward.” He continued to say, "when we say our, we must mean everyone. This is a value rooted in my faith."
Kentucky has a budget surplus for the first time in a while after state tax collections, and the governor said now is the time to build off this progress.
“Right now, we don’t have to choose – we are able to be fiscally responsible while making record investments in our people and in our future,” said Gov. Beshear. “The investments that we make now will benefit many generations to come and forever change our Commonwealth.”
Beshear said his administration will always be “education first” and that his budget reflects that. The governor's budget would invest what he said was a record $2 billion to fund pre-k through 12th grade.
One of the major components of the education plan is ensuring universal preschool and full-day kindergarten for every Kentucky child. He also mentioned investing more in transportation for students. Beshear outlined a plan to ask for a 5% pay raise for all school personnel, as well as a pledge not to raise health care premiums. He said pensions and medical benefits will be fully funded.
The education budget designates $79 million over three years for student loan forgiveness for public school teachers providing a maximum $3,000 annual award for each year of employment as a public-school teacher. It would also allow for the creation of two new grant programs for school districts to provide wrap-around services to students impacted by violence, substance abuse, child abuse, and parental incarceration, as well as other training and resources to help students.
The budget also includes investments in infrastructure. Beshear proposed an approximately $250 million plan to create a Site Identification and Development Program, aimed to help communities “grow small sites into larger sites” and be “shovel ready and build ready.”
Gov. Beshear pledged $250 million from the General Fund for transportation infrastructure projects. He pointed to three projects in particular: the Brent Spence companion bridge project, the I-69 Ohio River crossing in Henderson, and the completion of the Mountain Parkway project.
It would also provide funding for the Better Kentucky Cleaner Water Program to provide clean drinking water to Kentucky families and add money to expand high-speed internet to every part of the commonwealth.
Beshear wants to dedicate $10 million per year to fund the “Talent Attraction Media Campaign."
“We’ve got a great story to tell and it’s time the world heard it,” the governor said.
Investing money in infrastructure, he said, is important because "continuing our economic momentum requires us to keep and attract the top talent."
Governor Beshear said all people should have access to high-quality, affordable health care and mentioned the relaunch of KYnect. He said his budget will fully fund Medicaid as well.
“Living this faith starts with a basic human right – access to high-quality, affordable health care,” Gov. Beshear said.
On Wednesday, he unveiled his plan to invest more money in scholarships for potential nurses and to create a student loan forgiveness program for them. During his address Thursday, Beshear elaborated on this, saying that his budget would focus on recruiting and retaining nurses and providing $36 million to local health departments would give $150 million annually to nursing homes to maintain a $29 per-diem reimbursement rate.
“I want each and every nurse out there to know I care about you," the governor said. "So this budget addresses the challenges of the present, but it also invests in our bright future."
He also shared that he wants the state to invest $36.2 million over the next two and a half years for 49,000 additional meals per week for seniors in Kentucky.
"We should never have a waiting list for seniors who are hungry who are waiting to get help again," Beshear said Wednesday.
Before the pandemic, Kentucky had a waiting list of seniors who couldn't afford food. The pandemic freed up funds to help some of these people, but the governor said the money he is proposing should meet the needs of all seniors.
The budget also includes a 34% increase in funding to Domestic Violence Centers, Rape Crisis Centers, and Child Advocacy Centers.
Governor Beshear said his budget also puts focus on veterans. The budget would provide $200,000 each year for the Homeless Veterans program, $700,000 annually to increase the number of veterans benefit field representatives, and nearly $300,000 each year to expand outreach. It includes more positions at veterans cemeteries, as well as phasing in operations at the newest state veterans center in Bowling Green in 2024.
When it comes to public safety, he said he wants to include a $15,000 pay increase for Kentucky State troopers. The House Republicans’ budget bill includes the $15,000 figure as well. Gov. Beshear's proposed budget includes a $8,000 across-the-board pay increase for KSP telecommunicators and funds body cameras for KSP troopers for the first time.
The Governor added that Thursday he signed the first piece of legislation to help Western Kentucky communities, which provides $30 million for the impacted school systems and $15 million to speed up medium-term housing to those who lost everything.
“Our families must have access to affordable health care, and our most vulnerable need our support and protection," said Beshear. "Let’s commit to work together on behalf of our people to build this better Kentucky that we all want."
After the budget address, members of Republican leadership were asked about what the governor proposed.
House Speaker David Osborne said that he has not seen the actual budget and because of that, he cannot speculate on specific items proposed.
“It’s impossible to tell," said Osborne, when asked about potential common ground between the House budget bill and the governor's budget blueprint. “We’re never gonna spend as much money as he wants us to.”
“We are in an unusual time,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, reiterating what he said last week after the State Of The Commonwealth. "This is an economy that has been created by the infusion of federal dollars.”
Republicans have supermajorities in the House and Senate, and have the final say on tax-and-spend matters. Last week, House Republicans filed their own-budget bill that calls for less state spending than Beshear proposed. House Speaker David Osborne suggested that bill could pass the House this month.