The Republican-led Kentucky House of Representatives is set to consider a budget bill that exempts some of state government from spending cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin earlier this year.
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee advanced a budget bill that gets rid of Bevin’s proposed 6.25 percent cuts to K-12 programs, higher education institutions and Kentucky State Police.
It also restores cuts to public school transportation funding that local school districts would have had to pay for and cuts to health insurance for retired teachers.
Rep. Steve Rudy, a Republican from Paducah and chair of the committee, said the new budget bill still reduces the size of state government.
“There’s several cuts throughout this budget. Several programs that are being eliminated, several programs that aren’t being funded,” Rudy said. “We tried to restore as what we thought the big priorities were.”
During even-numbered years, lawmakers write a two-year budget that outlines how the state will spend money for the next two years.
In his budget address in January, Gov. Bevin proposed cutting most state spending by 6.25 percent over the next two years and eliminating 70 programs across state government.
The House’s version of the budget restores funding to some of those programs, like the Mesonet weather monitoring station at Western Kentucky University, the Robinson Scholars program that provides scholarships to eastern Kentucky youth and the Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead State University.
The House budget includes Bevin’s request to set aside massive amounts of money for the state’s ailing pension systems — about $3.3 billion, or 15 percent of state spending over the next two years.
The extra funding is partly paid for through fund transfers — $466 million would be taken out of the state employees’ health insurance trust fund.
The committee also advanced a bill that would increase Kentucky’s cigarette tax from 60 cents per pack to $1.10 per pack and create a 25 cent tax on prescription pain killers — to be paid by distributors.
“It’s costing more and more and the revenues do continue to climb, but not enough to cover what we need to meet the obligations of fully funding the pension,” Rudy said.
Rudy said he wants lawmakers to consider comprehensive tax reform during this year’s legislative session, which ends on April 13th.
The House will likely vote on the budget on Thursday, then the Senate will write its own version of the bill.