The Kentucky General Assembly met March 29 and 30 to complete this year’s legislative session, and an unusual session it was. Odd numbered year sessions are thirty (30) day or “short” sessions and are not considered budget years. Biennial revenue bills and budgets are meant to be passed in sixty (60) day or “long” sessions, but due to the pandemic only a single year was dealt with in 2020. Thus, fiscal year 2021 — 2022 had to be addressed during this year’s session. The effect of the government enforced shutdown of our state and country and the Governor’s Executive actions were issues that had to be grappled with too.
We passed the revenue and budget bills that will keep the Commonwealth operating for the upcoming year. Among other things, we also overrode vetoes, passed legislation that dealt with gubernatorial overreach, passed bills directing how funds received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are to be spent, and passed a constitutional amendment bill that will be on the ballot in 2022 for voters to accept or reject.
Unfortunately, bills passed on the last days of the session can be vetoed without the General Assembly having the opportunity to override those vetoes. One of the problems I see on both the federal and state level, is that important legislation often isn’t brought for final passage until the final moment. I understand that the pressure to act is greater at the end of the session rather than the beginning, but in my opinion taking action at that late date (frequently just to “do something”) does not serve our citizens well and often leads to poor decisions.
How to spend our taxpayer dollars — money that we (you and I) provide to the state to operate — is a daunting task, especially in these economic times. In this update I will discuss two (2) appropriation bills.
One of the most difficult decisions I face as a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives is balancing the positives in a bill vs. the negatives and then voting accordingly. A prime example of this is House Bill 382 (HB 382).
HB 382 started life on February 4 as a bill relating to allocation of funds to counties served by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). When the bill was first brought to the House floor for a vote, I voted yes, the bill passed and was sent to the Senate for its consideration. The Senate modified it on March 30, the last day of the session, and sent it back to the House for concurrence.
When it came back to the House, the TVA portion was left essentially intact, but the bill also allocated $140 million for all day kindergarten. In Kentucky there are only a handful of school districts that do not already offer all day Kindergarten, so is $140 million a wise investment when the bill simply allocates the money but doesn’t actually require how it is to be spent? The $140 million equates roughly to an additional $135 per student in the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding formula effectively bringing SEEK to $4,135 per student. Funding for education before HB 382 already amounted to over 50% of the General Fund budget with kindergarten through high school education itself counting for about 42% of the General Fund budget.
This additional money will undoubtedly become the new SEEK floor, and I am not sure we can afford it. With the appropriations for teacher and other education employee pensions, appropriations for the Kentucky Educational Excellence (KEES) program, appropriations for the Family Resource Youth Service Centers, etc., it seems to me that other needs are equally important. With that in mind, I felt that the overall negatives outweighed the positives and I voted no on the final version of HB 382. The bill did pass however and has been sent to the Governor for his action.
HB 556 is another bill that was changed at the last minute. HB 556 started life on February 22 as a one (1) page bill of a mere eleven lines about appropriation bills in “short” sessions. As before, when the bill was first brought to the House floor for a vote, I voted yes, the bill passed and was sent to the Senate for its consideration. The Senate modified it on March 30, the last day of the session, and sent it back to the House for concurrence.
HB 556 ended as a twenty-three (23) page bill that appropriated $127 million of ARPA money for replacing and renovating aging public school facilities, $12 million for county jails to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, $37 million to help with prison population, $53 million for interior renovations of the State Capitol, and $5 million for exterior maintenance and renovations of the State Capitol Annex. HB 556 also creates the Harrodsburg Sestercentennial (two hundred fiftieth anniversary) Commission and the Kentucky State Parks Centennial Commission
Additionally, HB 556 appropriates $245 million of Kentucky General Fund money with $10 million for a new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for West Louisville, $20 million for rural hospitals through a revolving loan program, and $75 million toward the construction of vocational education facilities.
I was not enamored with how all the ARPA money was allocated but believed that the positives outweighed the negatives in that portion of the bill. For me then, the decision on how to vote on HB 556 in total hinged on the General Fund expenditures. The TIF will last for years and there is really no way to determine if the hoped for return on investment down the road will compensate for the loss of state revenue as a result of the TIF. It did not seem right to me that the TIF would only apply to a few communities in Louisville but ignore the rest of Kentucky.
I realize that those Louisville communities are are poor and in need of assistance, but there are many areas of the Commonwealth that are poor and have been decimated by loss of jobs. Those communities need help too.
Therefore I again felt that the overall negatives outweighed the positives and I voted no on the final version of HB 556. The bill did pass however and has been sent to the Governor for his action.
As always, thank you for reading my updates and thank you for contacting me with your concerns and thoughtful suggestions. It is a privilege to represent you in the Kentucky House of Representatives and your input helps me make decisions that best represent the views of the Fourth District. I may be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800- 372-
7181, directly at 502- 564- 8100, by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at legislature.ky.gov and clicking on the Legislature button and then the contact a member link, or by mail to the Capitol Annex -Frankfort, KY 40601.