FRANKFORT — Republican leaders expressed skepticism with Gov. Andy Beshear’s proposed budget Tuesday night and bashed the governor for not briefing them on its details before his speech.
Beshear pitched lawmakers on what he described as an “education first” spending plan — a phrase that prompted cheers from teachers listening outside the House chamber.
The proposed two-year budget would be the first in 14 years to make no cuts to the state’s General Fund, Beshear told lawmakers. Instead, the governor touted a combination of so-called fund transfers — pulling in excess available funds into the General Fund — and the use of money from legal settlements and “enhanced collections.”
Beshear also proposed a 10-cent increase in the state’s tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, a new tax on vaping products, legalizing and taxing sports betting, and a 29% increase of the minimum tax on limited liability entities to $225. Together, Beshear said they would pull in $147.7 million over the next two years.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters afterward he was skeptical of the plan and that it was still too soon to know what cuts may be buried in the proposal’s details.
And while the Beshear administration provided reporters some background information in off-the-record remarks about the proposal hours before the speech, lawmakers were left in the dark, something that did not sit well with Stivers.
“You all got briefed on it and got two or three pages delivered to you,” said Stivers, referring to reporters. “We have yet to see the first document, and I don’t think anybody in this group votes on the bill.”
That didn’t stop some Republicans from criticizing Beshear’s promises.
“I’m glad he’s got fantasy gaming in there, because it’s a fantasy budget,” state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill and chairman of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue committee, told The Courier Journal.
Both McDaniel and Speaker of the House David Osborne, R-Prospect, were also critical of Beshear’s proposal to increase the minimum tax on limited liability entities.
“It’s a little bit disconcerting that we heard that he’s going to propose an increase on every single job creator in Kentucky,” Osborne told reporters.
Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, noted that with the exception of the LLC tax, Republicans had already filed bills in the House to support Beshear’s tax increases.
“So I do expect bipartisan support on the vaping tax, the cigarette tax and sports betting,” McGarvey told reporters on the House floor immediately after Beshear’s speech. “Again, those are all Republican bills that the governor is saying he supports.”
Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, agreed.
“I think sports betting and tobacco and vaping (taxes) have seen bipartisan support here in the House and I assume so in the Senate, as well,” she said, though she, too, hadn’t been briefed on the proposal beforehand.
Some places where lawmakers will likely disagree include Beshear’s decision to not fund school safety officers and mental health counselors in his proposal, something Osborne called “woefully short.” The speaker said he supports spending “however much it takes” to fund school safety.
“To present a budget that does not fully fund keeping our most precious assets safe is pretty disconcerting to me,” Osborne said.
And while Osborne called raises for teachers “merited,” Stivers questioned the decision to not include raises for non-teaching personnel, including school bus drivers and cooks.
“Those individuals who provide a lot of the services in the school systems seem to be the forgotten ones,” he said.
Osborne said the House would move as quickly as possible to send a budget to the Senate by the end of February, adding that Steven Rudy, R-Paducah and chairman of the House Appropriations & Revenue committee, probably has “the most difficult job in legislature right now.”
Rudy told The Courier Journal he was curious what savings the Beshear administration found in the corrections budget and in various fund transfers, but that it was still too early to say much about Beshear’s proposal.
“We can’t judge a budget on a 30-minute speech,” Rudy said. “We will start analyzing the numbers. We will take a good, deep dive into his recommendations. Where we can agree, we will move forward, and where we can’t, we’ll have to make those decisions.”
By Alfred Miller
Louisville Courier Journal