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'The World Has Changed So Drastically': Kentucky Senate Mulls Slimmed Down Budget Amid Crisis

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LRC Public Information
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The Kentucky Senate has rolled out its first draft of the two-year spending plan, proposing a deep cut in teacher retirement system dollars if “structural changes” aren’t made to reduce costs. Lawmakers argue the Senate is confronting a new budget reality that didn’t exist when the governor and the House put forward their plans just weeks ago.

With wildly divergent revenue predictions in the face of the global pandemic, Senate leaders proposed a scaled down budget Wednesday – one they admit is likely to look quite different from the document the General Assembly ultimately delivers to the governor.

On the chopping block are Gov. Andy Beshear’s dedicated raises for teachers and $500 million in teacher pension funding that could be shifted out of that retirement system if further changes aren’t made for future hires.

Even with slimmed down version, Sen. Tom Buford said the state may be facing some stark choices.

"We will struggle, I think, to provide the revenue to do this what I call 'scortched Earth budget' over the next 12 months," the senator warned. "I think we can follow our economy pretty much to where the stock market is headed. We could be down $1 billion in revenues, and that's a conservative estimate." 

The budget does provide for higher per-pupil spending for K-12 students, which could be allocated by school districts toward teacher raises, and a 1 percent raise for classified school staff.

The moves drew protests – but not the traditional sort seen during previous sessions, when red-shirted teachers and their supporters jammed into the Capitol to demonstrate against proposed pension changes. With coronavirus restrictions keeping all but essential personnel out of the building, public education and public worker advocates circled the building in their cars with horns blaring.

Work on non-budget bills has progressed, despite the urging of Gov. Andy Beshear that the General Assembly either pass a budget and any COVID-19 relief bills quickly and head home, or adjourn now and await a special session. 

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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