Beshear proposes restoring $189 million to public schools, cuts - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Beshear proposes restoring $189 million to public schools, cuts to higher ed

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FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Governor Steve Beshear is proposing to restore hundreds of millions of dollars for Kentucky's public schools by making "damaging" cuts to higher education and other state agencies.

Beshear said his budget, which he revealed during a speech to state lawmakers Tuesday, relies on no additional revenue from proposed casinos. It does call for nearly $2 billion in new debt, which Republicans criticized.

The spending plan calls for adding $71 million in the 2015 fiscal year and $118 million the following year to the state's funding formula for public schools, restoring funding to pre-recession levels, Beshear said.

The governor's two-year, $19.8 billion dollar budget includes pay increases for teachers and state workers. His plan includes a 2.5 percent cut next year for the University of Louisville and other public colleges and universities, and flat funding the year after.

"Higher education ought to be receiving more support, not less," Beshear said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday. "This was one of the most difficult choices we had to make in this budget in order to make the investments in preschool through 12th grade."

In addition to increases to the K-12 funding formula, Beshear called for more spending on textbooks, technology and school security. Kentucky Education Association leaders urged lawmakers to pass a budget with funding at the levels Beshear proposed.

"Public school employees view the governor's budget proposal as a huge step in the right direction for Kentucky's students," said Stephanie Winkler, the association's president. "Without these necessary funding strategies, our schools stand to lose everything they have gained in the last five years."

University of Louisville's president said he would support casino gaming and tax code changes as means to increase revenue and prevent the higher education cuts.

"We've been trying to manage costs and be as efficient as we can," President James Ramsey said, "but a real question at the University of Louisville right now is, can we continue on our trajectory with continued state budget cuts?"

Ramsey said leaders will decide in April whether to raise tuition, which has been used to counter previous state funding cuts.

Under Beshear's budget plan, other state agencies would see a 5 percent cut in the 2015 fiscal year and flat funding the year after. He warned the cuts could result in service reductions or possible layoffs.

There is expanded spending elsewhere in Beshear's budget, which calls for $80 million of taxpayer-supported bonding for construction of a classroom building at the University of Louisville's Belknap campus and $56 million for improvements at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

The projects won't happen without private investments, Beshear said.

But Republicans said the bonding, which would create $1.96 billion in new debt, would struggle to get through the legislature.

"We're going to be very concerned about the level of borrowing and spending in this budget," Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said.

"I just don't think the people of Kentucky want to be increasing our debt at the time when we have the third worst bond rating in the nation," said House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover.

Beshear called for a 2 percent raise for public school teachers in 2015 and a 1 percent raise the next year.

He also proposed providing state workers their first pay increase in four years. The 2015 proposed raise is broken down below, followed by a 1 percent across-the-board raise in 2016:

  • 5 percent for workers making $27,000 and less
  • 3 percent for workers making between $27,001 and $36,000
  • 2 percent for workers making between $36,001 and $50,000
  • 1 percent for workers making more than $50,001

Beshear's budget, which relied on 2.6 percent revenue growth for each of the next two years, includes full funding of the Kentucky Retirement System.

But the proposal includes no additional money for the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System, which administrators have warned will go bankrupt in 2036 without additional funding.

"We don't have any extra money to infuse into that system at this time," Beshear said. "At the same time, it is obviously becoming an issue we are going to have to deal with."

Among other proposals in Beshear's budget:

  • Continued commitment to funding the Ohio River Bridges project as part of the state's six-year transportation plan
  • Raising Kentucky's gas tax 1.5 percent, restoring 2013 levels and freezing the tax there
  • Restoring $53 million to the state's Child Care Assistance Program, which the governor said would benefit 10,000 families.

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