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Economic analyst: Kentucky lawmakers produced 'modest' budget that shortchanges retirees, child care

LRC Public Information

The two-year budget delivered to Gov. Andy Beshear Thursday increases K-12 spending, boosts funding on road projects by hundreds of millions, and continues to pay down pension liabilities, among many other priorities. But critics see it as a big missed opportunity.

Despite a hefty Rainy Day fund, GOP lawmakers avoided dipping into it to pay for recurring programs – like the governor’s much-touted push for universal pre-K.

"What ended up being passed is a pretty modest budget," says Jason Bailey, who heads up the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, which has argued for greater use of the state’s reserve funds.

Bailey says the legislature had a chance to reinvest in areas that have seen little in the way of increases for more than a decade, but chose instead to budget more conservatively in the hopes of enabling future income tax cuts.

So what areas are advocates for more spending most worried about?

"Well, there's no money left for an extra cost-of-living payment for state retirees. They haven't had one since 2011 and that was a real disappointment when you had all that extra money available. There's a little bit of extra money for child care, but not nearly enough to prevent a cliff in funding for child care centers with the end of the pandemic aid and we're very concerned about the viability of a lot of child care centers moving forward because of that. There's not very much money in here for housing, though we have both a crisis in our cities and in our rural areas," Bailey says.

Finally, on education, the spending plan doesn’t allot money for guaranteed teacher raises. It does increase K-12 funding – an element Republican representative and school principal Tommy Truett said is receiving a warm welcome in his circles. But Bailey says the increases are still insufficient to keep up with inflation.

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.