Kentucky budget shortfall of $456 million is focus in Frankfort

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By Tom McKee

The General Assembly returned to Frankfort early last week, with the aftermath of last month’s snow and ice storm and the ongoing budget problems understandably taking up much of our time.

Legislators were briefed on Tuesday by state and federal emergency officials on the work that has been done so far to care for those in need.  More than 760,000 homes lost power at one point, and it may be weeks before electricity will be restored to tens of thousands of those. The damage has been especially devastating in the western half of the state.  Unfortunately, the storm claimed more than two dozen lives.

I am happy to report that, to my knowledge, all of the homes in the 78th District have their electricity service restored.  I know it has been a difficult time, but I was pleased with the way we came together.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.

On Thursday, President Obama declared the entire state a disaster area, a move that will cover most if not all of the cleanup cost, which has already topped $60 million.

Governor Beshear focused much of his remarks during his State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday on the storm and on the budget shortfall that is estimated at $456 million.

Though details are not finalized, it appears the House and Senate are near an agreement that would make up that deficit by the end of the fiscal year on June 30th.  The hope is that we can have a bill on the governor’s desk by Friday.

Our goal is to preserve critical health and human service programs and classroom funding.  We also need to make sure that we are well-positioned for any potential shortfalls next year, since the economy shows no immediate signs of improvement.

One factor in our favor is the federal stimulus plan for the states.  Though details are not yet finalized, this could potentially bring in more than $2 billion to Kentucky over the next two years, with much of that likely to be dedicated to Medicaid, schools, unemployment assistance and infrastructure.

During the governor’s speech to legislators, he offered several areas that he would like to see Kentucky pursue in the years ahead.

That includes strengthening our small businesses, the backbone of our economy; solidifying our lead in domestic energy production and research; and revisiting the Kentucky Education Reform Act, whose 20th anniversary is next year.  There is a growing consensus that it is time for an in-depth review of this historic initiative.

The House will spend much of this week on passing a revised budget, and then the remainder of its time on such other issues as an updated road plan for the rest of this fiscal year and the next.  The federal stimulus plan alone should provide a substantial amount of work for our roads.

Legislators are scheduled to be off next week, but the committees will continue to meet.  If you would like to let me know your views on the budget or anything else involving state government, please feel free to contact me.  My address is Room 332B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601. You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.