Gov. Andy Beshear delivered his budget address Thursday night, laying out a series of spending priorities like universal pre-K, raises for state workers and a boost in funding for higher education, which is still reeling from more than a decade of cuts.
The governor had already unveiled many of his proposals over the last week after House Republicans broke tradition and released their spending plan early.
But still, the governor used the televised address to make the case for a sweeping two-year budget plan that would take advantage of windfalls from a historic budget surplus and federal relief dollars.
“Now is when we must make the bold investments. Now is our chance to move this state forward—not right, not left but forward,” Beshear said.
Beshear’s plan aligns with some of the priorities laid out by House Republicans—a 6% raise for state workers, $15,000 per year raises for state troopers and funds to attract and retain social workers and nurses.
But the governor’s plan goes further, including funding for universal preschool and kindergarten, $200 million for state parks improvements and a 12% increase to each of the state’s nine public colleges and universities, the largest increase in years after major cuts following the Great Recession.
You can see an executive summary of the governor’s proposal here.
Republicans will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to writing the budget. With large majorities in both chambers of the legislature, GOP lawmakers don’t have to worry about having their plans vetoed by the governor. They can easily override him.
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Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, expressed skepticism about Beshear’s plan during an interview on KET after the speech.
“It sounds good, it looks good, but it sounds like you’ll put a chicken in every pot. We don’t know how we’re going to pay for all those chickens,” Stivers said.
Kentucky is predicted to have a multibillion-dollar surplus at the end of the fiscal year, a large chunk of the $12 billion annual budget. The state is also slated to receive another $1.1 billion in coronavirus relief money this spring and billions of dollars from the federal infrastructure bill.
House Speaker David Osborne said lawmakers will move quickly on the budget and promised to give the governor’s plan “every consideration.”
“We’re going to be on the most aggressive timeline in modern history on this budget. I see nothing that will keep us from accomplishing that,” Osborne said.
Osborne said the House budget bill could pass the chamber as early as next week. The Senate will also eventually release its own budget plan. Lawmakers will likely finalize the spending plan during a conference committee with members from both the House and Senate.