Kentucky Politics

The Kentucky House of Representatives quickly advanced budget bills on Monday that continue state spending at current levels.  The bills do not include Gov. Andy Beshear’s initiatives like state employee raises and relief during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move is intended to speed up the budget writing process. Once the bills pass each chamber, the Republican-led House and Senate will begin a conference committee where they can hammer out the final budget in a small group.

Rep. Jason Petrie, a Republican from Elkton and chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said the budget bills that moved forward are largely the same as the ones that passed last year, with only small adjustments like debt service.

“We have only one year to look at, and with whatever passes this session, guess what, we’ll be back in session next January,” Petrie said.

Last year Kentucky lawmakers passed a one-year budget instead of the conventional two-year budget because of financial uncertainties at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

That means this year, legislators have to pass another one-year plan But leaders of the Republican-led legislature have different ideas from Gov. Beshear of what the state’s $12 billion budget will look like.

Republican lawmakers have expressed skepticism in Beshear’s use of more than $600 million of one-time money, mostly federal CARES Act funds.

And on Monday, the House Appropriations committee did not advance Beshear’s $340 million pandemic relief bill, which would provide direct assistance to small businesses and repay part of Kentucky’s federal loan that shored up the unemployment system.

Petrie said the bill had technical issues that he “will continue to look at.”

“Last night I ran into an issue, this morning I ran into a worse issue,” Petrie said.

Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, called on lawmakers to restore some of Beshear’s initiatives when they write the final budget.

“I’m praying that we can put a lot more of the very, very much needed things that small business and nonprofits and unemployment claimants need from this budget before the final version,” Hatton said.

The continuation budget bills for the executive, legislative and judicial branches all passed out of committee and the House Floor on Monday, as did the state’s road fund. The measures will now be considered by the Senate.

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