Bevin To Chart Economic Course, Lawmakers React To Rumors
As Gov. Matt Bevin puts the final touches on his first biennial budget and State of the Commonwealth address, state agencies are bracing for the possibility of fresh cuts. The chief executive has taken tax increases off the table - meaning pensions, expanded Medicaid rolls, and other obligations could eat into any new post-recession spending.
"Realistic," "responsible," "bold action" - just some of the words Bevin has used to describe the spending plan set for release Tuesday. With increased costs expected to exceed projected growth to the tune of $500 million, more belt-tightening is likely as multi-billion dollar unfunded pension liabilities threaten to overshadow other requests.
Among those keeping an especially close eye on the speech are: advocates for kynect, the Kentucky health insurance exchange Bevin has pledged to shut down, teachers and state employees, and the Kentucky Arts Council, which rumors suggest could be on the chopping block.
Pointing to a pair of council-supported projects in his district, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters he sees no rationale for defunding or cutting the arts group.
"It would be difficult for me to understand why we would have to cut a very small part out of the budget that, in fact, is pretty successful in a lot of rural Kentucky places," he said.
Taking a wait and see approach is Republican Auditor Mike Harmon, who tells WUKY, "I haven't really heard that from - that's not to say they're not doing it - but I haven't heard it from Bevin's side. In the past, I've just told people remain calm see what budget comes out. Even the governor's budget is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process."
Democratic Budget Committee chair Rep. Rick Rand also urged caution, saying, "We will have plenty of time to weigh in on it and we will do that. I would think though the House priorities of public education and K-12 education are still going to be one of the highest priorities."
In an Associated Press interview, Bevin promised to keep cuts to a minimum while taking advantage of lawsuit settlements and judgments to help defray the more than $1 billion dollars needed to bolster the state's retirement systems over the next two years.
Bevin's address will air live tonight at 7 on KET and WUKY.