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Budget a hot topic during Kentucky General Assembly’s opening day

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(The Center Square) – Kentucky lawmakers gathered in Frankfort on Tuesday for the start of the 2024 General Assembly session, and the top House Republican told reporters a budget bill could be unveiled by sometime next week.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said legislators had been working on the two-year spending bill during the interim. However, he noted some late changes in personnel figures have had a cascading effect on budgeting due to pension contributions.

The state’s budget has seen record surpluses in recent years, thanks partly to Republican spending practices, tax reform and the infusion of federal COVID-19 relief dollars into the state coffers. Once this year’s budget is passed, the state’s surplus, known as the “rainy day fund,” will likely be near $4.5 billion.

Hours before the speaker met with reporters at the Capitol, a coalition of labor, religious, educational and other advocacy groups held a press conference calling on state lawmakers to use some of the surplus to cover what they called essential spending for Kentuckians. Kentucky Together’s wish list includes raising salaries substantially for public school teachers, bus drivers and other employees, allocating millions for the state’s affordable housing trust fund and establishing a tax credit to abolish child poverty.

Natalie Cunningham, the outreach director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said the projected surplus is more than twice what the state needs.

“There’s no good reason to continue letting this idle account grow while the needs of so many Kentuckians go unmet,” Cunningham said.

Osborne did not give many specifics about what the GOP spending plan would include, but he did say he would like to see money go towards the state employees’ pension programs, which face a multi-billion shortfall.

In likening it to pumping out a septic tank, the speaker said those payments can improve the state’s long-term fiscal health.

“It’s something that has to be done, but it’s hard to derive any great pleasure from it,” Osborne said.

Many of the budget policies supported by Kentucky Together overlap the priorities of Gov. Andy Beshear, who is in the first month of his second term in office. The Democrat has called on school personnel to receive an 11% raise and wants to fully fund pre-K services across the state.

Several of Beshear’s top priorities have failed to make it into the General Assembly’s budgets during his first term, thanks to Republicans holding veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

While the governor traditionally has presented his budget plan to lawmakers during the early days of the even-year session, Beshear broke with tradition to unveil his proposal last month in an address aired on KET. Two years ago, Republican legislative leaders filed their bill before his speech before lawmakers.

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