Beshear urges lawmakers to ‘be bold’ in crafting budget

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear urged Republican lawmakers Monday to go bold in crafting a budget, saying the money is available to strengthen Kentucky’s competitiveness as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beshear’s pitch came as top lawmakers started a final push toward putting together a one-year spending plan to present to the GOP-dominated legislature, which is set to reconvene Thursday. Budget negotiators met Monday and are set to resume public discussions Tuesday.

“We have the dollars to invest,” Beshear said at a news conference. “Now is the time that we’re going to determine our post-COVID future, our role in the new economy. And we’ve got to be bold.”

State General Fund receipts have shown solid growth in recent months despite ongoing restrictions on some businesses meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. The General Fund pays for most state services. Some top Republican lawmakers say the influx of federal assistance to help the state weather the COVID-19 crisis needs to be factored in when deciding on state spending.

Another infusion of federal aid is expected to flow to Kentucky as part of the massive COVID-19 rescue package that congressional Democrats are poised to send to President Joe Biden.

In early January, Beshear proposed a separate virus relief bill that included $220 million in aid for small businesses. He also proposed one-time spending of $100 million for school renovations and construction and $50 million to expand broadband access. The Kentucky House has passed and sent to the Senate an ambitious bill aimed at delivering broadband service to hard-to-reach areas.

During Monday’s budget session, top lawmakers didn’t reveal what will be in the state spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1. Early in the session, lawmakers advanced “continuation” budgets seen as mere placeholders for the final versions now being crafted by House and Senate conferees.

Beshear said the latest federal pandemic assistance package could support a range of priorities in Kentucky, including broadband and water and sewer projects.

“Just think about it, we could use these dollars to ensure that every Kentuckian has access to clean drinking water,” the governor said. “How long have we wanted to make that a reality?”

The assistance also can provide relief to households and businesses, Beshear said. Another massive infusion will go to city and county governments, he said. The governor called it “an opportunity to do some really special things that help us sprint out of COVID into a bright future.”

Beshear’s budget plan also called for pay raises for K-12 teachers and other school employees, more public education spending, full funding for Medicaid, more staffing to combat child abuse and increased funding for the state’s beleaguered unemployment insurance system.

Republican lawmakers, with veto-proof majorities, ultimately will shape the budget to their liking.

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