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Health Crisis Complicates And Aggravates Kentucky Budget Debate

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LRC Public Information
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The rapidly-evolving coronavirus pandemic has thrown a massive wrench into the state budget in the final weeks of the Kentucky General Assembly. Republican leaders are pressing to streamline the process as Democrats cry foul.

GOP leaders are trimming back the remaining working days of the session to two, next Thursday and April 1, as they scramble to pass a budget with few revenue guideposts in the midst of a global crisis. Senate President Robert Stivers said lawmakers are working to finish bills that could prove consequential in the days to come, including relief for schools and businesses. 

He also cited House Bill 99, "that being the funding for the University of Louisville hospital, so there are still some big issues out there that are important to this state that, if we adjourn, it will be very difficult to address them." 

But Democrats warn the hastily-prepared Senate budget undercuts the state’s preparedness by tying the governor’s hands when it comes to moving around state funds. Sen. Morgan McGarvey also pointed to proposed cuts to public health departments.

"These are the front lines of combatting the coronavirus epidemic," the top Democrat cautioned. "We're cutting them by nearly $50 million. We can't do that in today's reality."

Critics have accused Republicans of smuggling teacher pension changes into the budget while coronavirus restrictions are preventing educators from protesting inside the building, but GOP leaders say if there were ever a time to keep an eye on costs, it's now. 

McGarvey said all proposed budgets already includes language that would call lawmakers back to Frankfort to rewrite the spending document if revenue drops by more than five percent – an eventuality that appears to be the closest thing to a certainty in today's financial climate.

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.
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