Kentucky Politics

Gov. Andy Beshear issued several line-item vetoes to the budget and revenue bills on Friday, rejecting language that blocks him from spending funds from Kentucky’s share of the recent coronavirus-relief package.

Beshear also vetoed parts of the budget zeroing out funding for the Commission on Women, freezing new mine safety inspector positions and requiring the state treasurer to approve travel on the state aircraft.

The Republican-led legislature will likely override Beshear’s vetoes when lawmakers return for the final two days of this year’s session on Monday and Tuesday.

In his veto message about the executive branch budget bill, Beshear wrote that by requiring legislative approval to spend relief money, lawmakers were hindering the state’s ability to recover from the pandemic.

“It is the intent of the American Rescue Plan Act to cycle these funds into the state economy to bridge the economic gap that the pandemic has caused,” Beshear wrote. “The sooner we deploy the resources from the American Rescue Plan Act, in combination with our vaccination program, the sooner the economy will recover and create jobs so that people can return to work.”

Kentucky’s state government is slated to receive $2.4 billion from the federal relief plan, money that can be spent on coronavirus-related expenses, raises for frontline workers and infrastructure like water and broadband.

But Republican leaders of the legislature say instructions from the U.S. Treasury about what exactly the money can be spent on came too late in Kentucky’s budget-writing process, and they only picked a few items to fund with federal dollars.

Legislators passed a bill setting aside $250 million of the relief money to fund broadband internet projects in underserved parts of Kentucky.

Beshear vetoed language only allowing $50 million of the money to be spent in the first year, saying it would put the state “at a competitive disadvantage to other states at a time all will be competing to purchase and run fiber.”

He also vetoed language in a separate bill that would fine his administration more than $900,000 if it spends any of the coronavirus relief money without the legislature’s approval.

Beshear wrote that the legislature was interfering with funding for education, public health, rental assistance and more.

“As the recipient of these federal funds, the Commonwealth needs to carry out the services and activities required by each program in a timely manner,” Beshear wrote.

Lawmakers passed the one-year budget bill shortly before Beshear’s two-week veto period. The measure is largely a continuation of last year’s spending plan due to financial uncertainty as the state and country emerge from the pandemic. It adds $743 million to the state’s rainy day fund.

Beshear cited the rainy day savings and tax breaks passed by the legislature in his veto of language removing funding for the Kentucky Commission on Women, saying there was “certainly enough funding” to maintain spending on the  commission..

Beshear vetoed all or part of 27 bills during the veto break, including measures dealing with school choice, removing the governor’s power to fill U.S. Senate vacancies and moving teachers hired in the future into hybrid-style pension plans.

Beshear signed 87 bills and allowed two to become law without his signature during the veto period.

The legislature can override any of Beshear’s vetoes with a majority of votes from each chamber. But lawmakers won’t have a chance to override any vetoes of bills passed on the final two days of the legislative session.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.