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Bevin Budget Deals Out Statewide Cuts, Axes Programs

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Associated Press
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Gov. Matt Bevin unveiled a two-year budget proposal Tuesday night that delivers smaller-than-anticipated cuts to most state agencies while eliminating dozens of government programs in order to fully fund contributions to all state retirement systems.

Kentucky’s Republican governor prepared his audience for what was to come with a sobering quote from Thomas Paine.

"These are the times that try men's souls," he told the joint session of the Kentucky House and Senate.

In the hour-long address, Bevin said the goal of his budget is to get the state’s financial house in order and chided his critics to “get real” about the challenges facing the commonwealth and work across the aisle for the good of the state.

Injecting a massive $3.3 billion dollar investment into the state’s ailing pension system would require sacrifices, Bevin warned. Among them, a statewide 6.25 percent reduction for most agencies and the zeroing out of about 70 government programs, reportedly including the state’s film incentives, Kentucky Mesonet, which supplies climate data for the commonwealth, University Press, and others.  

"Nobody likes the idea of having to cut budgets," Bevin said.  Nobody likes the having the idea of having to make these difficult decisions. There is not enough money, and it's easy to throw stones without coming up with solutions."

Yet other priorities would see a boost under the plan. The governor wants to spend an additional $34 million to combat opioid addiction, $11 million for an adoption program, while funneling new dollars into law enforcement upgrades, raises for social workers, and a $250 million deposit in the state’s rainy day fund.

Reporters were not given the traditional briefing ahead of the address and lawmakers appeared unaware of any specifics afterward.

Speaking with KET, Senate President Robert Stivers said, "It is the governor's feeling that these are programs... that either don't have cost effective use of our dollars or may not be needed at all. What the details are we don't know."

Bevin argued it's necessary to single out the programs necessary to spare education and state agencies from deep, double-digit reductions. While the state’s K-12 funding formula would remain intact under the plan, Democratic House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins said questions remain.

"In talking about public education, there's still a lot of concerns, until we see exactly where those cuts are going to take place in higher education," he told KET.

The governor did take aim, however, at the state’s two largest school districts in his budget address, lamenting ballooning administrative costs he said must be reined in. Bevin cautioned that administrative budgets are eating into resources that should go directly to educating students. He also indicated the state would shift more of the funding burden for student transportation and other services to local districts.

"The bottom line is we have far too many people that are not teaching our students that are sucking up the dollars... that you all budget for our students," the governor charged. "That is going to change."

Kentucky Democratic Party head Ben Self responded in a statement, saying Bevin "knew last year his budget was flawed with a $156-million shortfall, but instead of fixing  the fundamental issues facing our state, he chose to play politics and cripple our state further by defunding critical elements of our public school system —  transportation, textbook money, professional development and a capped health coverage for teachers. We need a budget that fully funds our public education system, and doesn’t gut it as the governor has proposed.”

Budget bills begin their journey in the House and Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne is promising to keep the process on schedule.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.