Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Budget For Bevinstan

With time running out on a March 31 deadline for Kentucky's 2017-2018 budget, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin and the Republican-led Kentucky Senate are starting up the blame game on Kentucky Democrats in the House for daring to resist Bevin's across the board austerity cuts.

The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate appear to have made no progress in conference committee negotiations that began Thursday on a 2016-18 state government spending plan. 
A press release from Bevin's office early Tuesday said, "Gov. Matt Bevin and House and Senate GOP leadership will hold a media availability to discuss the status of budget conference negotiations." 
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, on Monday blamed the deadlock on Bevin, saying the governor was interfering with the talks. 
Between negotiation sessions of the conference committee on Monday the governor visited Senate Republicans behind closed doors. And later he blamed Stumbo. "We are willing to negotiate with anyone who is willing to sit down at the table," Bevin said. "Greg Stumbo is not such a person, unfortunately."

The sticking point is who will have to bear the billions of shoring up Kentucky's critically underfunded state pension system.

Over two years the Senate budget would add nearly $1.48 billion to the state's ailing pension funds. The House also adds a lot for pensions - about $1.4 billion. The House provides a bit more for the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System than the Senate but significantly less than the Senate to Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems. And the Senate also leaves $250 million in a reserve fund - called the 'permanent fund" - to be used in the future for pension funding. 
The House leaves no money in the permanent fund. Instead, the House uses that money to restore deep cuts Bevin and the Senate have proposed to universities and scores of programs that support public schools
Also apparently still part of the discussions is the judicial branch budget.- which has been passed by both chambers in a form that chief Justice John Minton said is $76 million short of funding the court system in the next two years
Minton has said if that budget becomes law it would require him to cut 600 employees in the judicial branch, shut down successful drug courts and likely result in 17,000 people awaiting trial on criminal charges being sent back to jail because of a lack of staff to supervise them while on release.

It's those school and university cuts that are the dealbreaker so far, especially since Bevin wants to use those massive austerity cuts to make a half-billion dollar slush fund to spend on his budget priorities, a non-starter for KY Dems.  It's not quite Kansas's level of austerity cuts.  Yet.

We'll see where this goes, but the clock is almost up, and without a budget, all of Kentucky will suffer.

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