House GOP unveils budget bill ahead of governor's speech

FILE - Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks about the increases in COVID-19 cases in the state and the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Increased education spending and pay raises for state employees are included in a two-year state budget plan unveiled by Kentucky House Republicans in a proposal Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. Gov. Beshear's spokeswoman, Crystal Staley, says the GOP plan falls short of the “game-changing investments” the governor will recommend.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky House Republicans unveiled a two-year state budget plan Friday that includes increased education spending and pay raises for state employees, deciding not to wait to hear the Democratic governor's proposals in his budget speech planned next week.

Gov. Andy Beshear's office was caught off guard by the House GOP's proposal. His spokeswoman, Crystal Staley, said the plan falls short of the “game-changing investments” the governor plans to recommend, including funding universal pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds.

House Democratic leaders called it “beyond petty” to file the executive branch budget bill without input from Beshear's administration. The Democrats said the timing by House Republicans “violates long-standing traditions and the spirit of budget law itself.”

“We may as well wrap up the 2022 legislative session now, because all of the major decisions apparently have been made,” Democratic Reps. Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham and Angie Hatton said in their statement. "This is not good government; in fact, it’s barely government at all.”

The GOP spending blueprint does reflect some of Beshear's priorities, including pay raises for social workers and state police troopers and dispatchers.

In a sign of bipartisan cooperation, Beshear signed a bill pushing back this year’s filing deadline for political candidates in Kentucky — a necessary step as lawmakers rush to finish redistricting.

The measure shifts the filing deadline to Jan. 25 for this year only.

The budget legislation was introduced by the House budget committee chairman on the fourth day of the 60-day legislative session. The decision to preempt Beshear's budget speech reflects GOP lawmakers' ability to shape spending bills to their liking. Wielding supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans have the political muscle to override the governor's vetoes.

House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Jason Petrie said the budget plan he filed offers a “solid, responsible approach consistent with our state’s needs and obligations.”

The House GOP proposal would increase the level of per-pupil funding under SEEK, the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools. The amount would go to $4,100 in the first fiscal year and $4,200 in the second year, according to a House Republican news release.

Also under the plan, the state would continue covering the entire cost of full-day kindergarten. Earlier this year, the legislature allocated state funds to pay for full-day kindergarten, but the extra spending was limited to just one school year.

The plan would increase the amount of state funding for local school districts' transportation costs.

On the issue of giving teachers a pay raise, a top priority for Beshear since his campaign for governor, Petrie said: “We chose to allocate resources to local districts and allow them to create their own plans for raises since many have already used other sources of revenue to do so."

The governor said in his State of the Commonwealth speech this week that his proposed budget would include “historic investments” for education, a pay raise for state workers and investments aimed at spurring more economic growth.

As for the timing of the GOP spending plan's release, Staley said: “Neither the executive branch nor the governor were alerted or consulted.”

The House Republicans' plan provides a 6% pay raise for public employees in the next fiscal year, according to the news release. It would require the state personnel secretary to develop a plan to revise the classification of public employees for funding purposes in the second year.

It proposes a $15,000 pay increase for state police troopers and motor vehicle inspectors and an $8,000 boost for dispatch telecommunicators. It would offer a pay raise and retention payment for social workers and would fund 200 new social worker positions over the two years to ease chronic staffing shortages. Beshear also has prioritized pay raises for state police and social workers.

Top lawmakers want to return to the tradition of passing a two-year budget, after the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic led to one-year budgets in each of the past two years.

Unlike previous years, when state revenue collections were sluggish or uncertain due to economic conditions, Kentucky finds itself awash in cash. Beyond the usual disagreements over how to spend state money, conflicts are likely over how much of the surplus should be spent.

Meanwhile, the legislation extending this year's filing deadline for candidates took effect after the governor's signature. Without the quick legislative action, candidates would have to have filed by Friday — before the new legislative and congressional maps for Kentucky take effect.

Beshear said Thursday that “people need to have notice of what their districts are going to be.”

Lawmakers are hoping to wrap up redistricting work in a rare Saturday session by sending the measures to the governor. The issue has dominated the session's opening days.

The redistricting measures cleared another round of committee reviews Friday, setting the stage for final votes Saturday in the House and Senate. The redrawn boundaries reflect months of behind-the-scenes work by top Republican lawmakers.

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