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Legislative Update from Rep. Richard Heath
By West Kentucky Star Staff
FRANKFORT, KY - As the 2016 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly comes to a close, I have been hard at work in Frankfort fighting for a fiscally responsible budget and moving priority pieces of legislation on to the Governor’s desk.

Budget negotiations are consuming all of the oxygen in the halls of the capitol, with both sides working to keep their priorities in place. Unfortunately, this means that there has been little movement towards passing a final budget for the Commonwealth, which totals around $21 billion over two years. The top priority of our caucus is the woefully underfunded public retirement systems, which have an underfunded liability of $38 billion. In order to address this, we are asking for state agencies to make small sacrifices in order to meet our promises to teachers and state workers. This is a morally right and financially prudent move that would help secure the retirement benefits of those who have earned them.

Public pensions are the number one problem in Kentucky and House Democrats have not yet agreed to fund pensions at a sustainable level. Governing magazine just released an article saying that Kentucky is the worst state in the nation when it comes to pension funding. Funding pensions is absolutely our caucus’ number one priority; if we don’t get them funded, the long-term liability issues will ultimately cut even more money out from areas such as education.

We have been in session for 59 days, and while the House and the Senate have passed their own differing budgets, the negotiators have not come to an agreement on a compromise budget. As of the end of this week, House Democrats rejected the latest proposal which included full restorations to K-12 education, full restoration to the Judicial Budget, reduced monies to the budget reserve trust fund, and half of the cuts the Governor proposed to higher education. While this was not our ideal proposal, and did not include everything we wanted, we still felt that it was a good first step toward getting our fiscal house in order. Unfortunately, House Democratic Leadership was not interested in this compromise, instead choosing to walk away from official negotiations. By walking away from our budget proposal, House Democrats not only jeopardized a veto proof budget, but put into question the operation of all state agencies going into the new fiscal year.

Despite the desperate pension crisis facing us, House Democrats remain bound to universities being exempt from the tightening of even one belt hole. Our caucus has sent a strong message that during this trying time, every state agency, including universities, should share the burden and tighten their belts. State universities across the commonwealth have an annual state appropriation of $1.16 billion. Our proposal would have only resulted in a ½ of 1 percent per year reduction in general revenue funding to all Kentucky universities!

On a high note, on Friday the House passed a bill to restore full funding to Kentucky’s court system. The restoration in cuts will save 600 jobs, several very successful programs such as drug court, and will allow the courts to continue operating in a swift manner.

Despite an impasse in current budget negotiations, there is still ample time to pass a budget, as lawmakers have until the last day of legislative session on April 12th.

As always, I welcome your comments and concerns on any issues facing our Commonwealth during the 2016 Regular Session. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or you can contact me via email at richard.heath@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.


Published 04:07 AM, Sunday Apr. 03, 2016
Updated 05:31 AM, Monday Apr. 04, 2016

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