Assembly agrees on 6-percent budget cut

FRANKFORT — A budget cutting higher education’s budget 6 percent passed both the House and Senate yesterday, moving the state’s $19 billion budget one step closer to completion.

The budget cut higher education funding by 3 percent on top of a 3 percent cut enacted by Gov. Steve Beshear for the fiscal year ending in July. It first passed the Senate in a 35-3 vote and passed the House in a 74-21 vote.

Unlike the one passed by the House nearly three weeks ago, this budget contained no increases in the cigarette or gas taxes. Instead of tax hikes, the state would attempt to fill a $900 million shortfall by taking more from the state lottery revenues each year, restructuring the state’s debt and not replacing about 3,400 state workers after they retire this year.

Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, one of the three senators who voted against the bill, said the budget that passed last night neglects vital state services including education and human services.

“All across Kentucky, students are studying for exams and writing term papers, work products that show knowledge,” said Scorsone, D-Lexington. “Madam President, I would submit that if this were presented as a school project it would be graded incomplete.”

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, responded to Scorsone by saying the budget needed to be passed that night to avoid an extended debate that would go into a special session.

“The difference is a teacher sending home a schoolchild with an extension. He can go home and play and finish the assignment,” Denton said. “In the General Assembly, if we don’t do our job, the taxpayers have to pay an absurd amount of money to do it again.”

Sen. Ed Worley, D-Richmond, responded to Scorsone by saying the budget reflects a national budget problem and said senators need to put planned cuts into perspective.

“I want you to realize the universities faced an absolutely terrible, catastrophic budget that the governor had to, not wanted to, had to pass,” Worley said, referring to Beshear’s proposed 12 percent cut to higher education he recommended earlier this year.

Introducing the budget to the House after the Senate approved the bill, Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, held up a document highlighting the differences between the House and Senate budgets. The result of days of work, she said, has good things in it.

“Perfect it’s not, but it is a budget to carry us into the next biennium. And it was created sometimes with tears and sometimes in near anger. It was not an easy process,” Webb said.

The House debated the merits of the budget until 11:15 p.m. In that time, as during Senate debate, several lawmakers expressed concern that the budget put a burden on public processes like Kentucky’s judicial branch and higher education. However, the budget still had a solid majority voting in favor of the budget.

The budget approved by the House and Senate will now go to the governor, who may veto all or part of the budget by April 14. Then, both the House and the Senate must separately approve the final budget before the April 15 deadline set by Kentucky law.