While it is good to see the chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly come together to pass a budget, the new budget falls short of what it will take to make needed progress in Kentucky.
It contains the 14th round of cuts since 2008 – cuts that have deeply impacted the public services that make Kentuckians healthier and more educated, our communities safer and more attractive, and our economy stronger. This budget does not adequately invest in many areas – ranging from human services to environmental, worker and public protection – and does not properly address the unfunded liability in the teachers’ retirement system, meaning higher costs down the road.
The budget harms higher education students by including more cuts to universities, community colleges and adult education, deeply underfunding need-based financial aid (despite a small bump) and imposing a new fee of up to $240 a year for full-time community college students rather than a more progressive financing method for construction projects. The ongoing shift in the cost of higher education to students is driving up personal debt and contributing to growing inequality in Kentucky.
The dollars put back into K-12 education and a few other areas in this budget provide a respite from cuts, but are only enough to allow programs to tread water. An exceptional bright point in the budget is the $18 million in 2016 for expanded access to pre-school.
But the revenue bill accompanying the budget includes new phased-in tax cuts that will erode revenue in future years, including a cut for the profitable bourbon industry and in the wholesale alcohol tax.
Kentucky will not have the resources it takes to support a strong state economy until the Legislature makes the right reforms to the inadequate state tax system. That should be the next task ahead of the General Assembly.