School funding Beshear's top session priority

Could mean cuts to other programs

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

Facing an “extremely tight” upcoming biennial budget, Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday he is “determined” to restore funding for K-12 education, even if that means cuts to other agencies and programs.

Beshear, who listed Kentucky’s jump in educational rankings as one of his top achievements this year, has managed to stave off major cuts in education spending during his administration, though per-pupil funding has dropped at Kentucky’s public schools since the recession.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has said hundreds of public school teachers face layoffs without additional funding.

“I am determined to reinvest in education with this upcoming budget, and so if I have to cut some other areas to do it, then that’s what I’m going to do,” Beshear said in a year-end interview with reporters.

“… These great educational attainments that I just pointed to this last year are a result of their (educators’) efforts in spite of some very difficult financial circumstances, but we are approaching a point, I’m afraid, where if we can’t begin to reinvest and start building back some of the things that have been lost in funding for education, then we’re going to lose this momentum that we have.” 

How deep those proposed cuts would be remains to be seen. Beshear was noncommittal on specifics, saying his administration is crafting its budget proposal to present to lawmakers. The draft budget won’t include possible revenues from expanded gaming — a tactic he tried unsuccessfully in 2010 — or tax reform, he said.

That doesn’t mean those issues are dead, however. Beshear said he expects to talk “some specifics in tax reform as well as expanded gaming” in the upcoming session.

“What our success may be, I don’t know,” he said. “Obviously both of these issues are difficult in any session. They will probably be more difficult this session because it’s an election year … but it is time to discuss both of these in detail, and hopefully we can get the Legislature to address both of them.”

Trying to open Kentucky’s borders to casino gambling has been a hallmark of Beshear’s time in office, something he acknowledged to reporters Tuesday.

While success on that issue has evaded him, Beshear said he sees “encouraging signs” that expanded gaming could become a reality. He said House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, has advocated for expanded gambling and Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan Seum, R-Louisville, has signaled a willingness to carry the issue in his chamber.

Beshear said he believes those involved in gambling discussions agree that, “a clean, simple constitutional amendment is the route that we should go from that standpoint.” There’s room to negotiate on enabling legislation, he said.

“I don’t harbor false hopes, but I’m encouraged that for the first time, we’re getting some very meaningful conversations from both sides of the aisles in both houses,” Beshear said. “I’m hoping that we can continue to develop that and find some common ground to move forward.”

Beshear said his budget proposal would include full actuarially required contributions to the Kentucky Retirement Systems, which is expected to cost the state an extra $100 million annually. The state will be paying full contributions for the first time since 2002 as part of pension reform legislation passed this year. KRS’ pension fund for most state workers is one of the country’s worst funded with enough assets to cover only 23.2 percent of its retirement obligations.

But KRS won’t be the only pension system on Beshear’s radar. 

Gary Harbin, executive secretary of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, has said he will request $1 billion in pension obligation bonds to maintain the plan’s financial stability. KTRS’ unfunded liabilities could nearly double from $12 billion to $23 billion without a funding plan expected to cost $400 million more annually due to accounting rules that take effect in 2015, he said.

“It’s obviously an issue that at some point will need to be addressed in some way,” Beshear said of KTRS. “Whether we can address it during this next biennium, we’ll have to see.”

A proposed natural gas liquids pipeline that would run through Franklin County has also raised issues lawmakers will sort through during the session. 

Legislators have pre-filed bills regarding the use of eminent domain by companies building such pipelines, as Bluegrass Pipeline officials have said they’ll use as a last resort. A group of residents filed a complaint in Franklin Circuit Court this month seeking clarification on the company’s proposed use of eminent domain.

Beshear said he would review pre-filed legislation on eminent domain and creating a regulatory board before the session.

“I haven’t made a final determination on where I’ll go with that, but I’m paying close attention to the issue,” he said.

Beshear’s other legislative priorities include expanding dating violence protection, implementing a statewide public smoking ban and improving the state’s child booster seat laws, he said.

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  • Yeah, I know I spelled Steve wrong, but it sounded out OK so I should get credit.

  • So Steave-O, how about we find a way to spend the existing funds more efficiently?  Layoffs should be your last line of defense.  Better yet, why don't we get the government out of education so that the teachers can do what they do best...Teach!  

    Here's another quick money saving idea: Go back to the trtaditional ag based schedule.  That way you are paying less to cool the buildings at the beginning and end of the school year. When I was a kid, cooling consisted of opening the windows. Just a thought.

  • UK it seems we always have a politician standing up for our kids and every time they do we start paying more taxes, fees and buying more material for the classroom to share with all. I am skeptical also. I am all for education but it just seems the more money we throw at education the worst it gets.When my child comes home with a piece of paper that has misspelled words on it and he tells me the teacher told him as long as he can sound it out it is spelled right and when I hear that as long as the kid can show how they came up with the answer 2+2=5 is also correct then I think we have more of a problem with the way we are educating and money will not solve this problem.

    So I say we look at schools close and get back to the basics.

  • Gayle, I think about 80% of the lottery proceeds go into education.

  • The money for education will never make it down to where it belongs--the kids and the teachers.  He's probably just going to hire a bunch more appointees and waste it on useless programs.  And although this article said, "the state will be paying full contributions for the first time since 2002...", I'm skeptical the pension will be fully paid.  I think this is Beshear's way of forewarning state employees that he's going to dip into the pension fund yet again for other programs.  These people are no good at keeping their word.

  • Glad to see him standing up for our kids education.

  •   The last time I remember hearing eminent domain being used in the Capital a Georgetown man lost a farm that was in his family for 4 generations so Toyota could be built. Speaking of that. Where's  the plan to bring businesses in here to create jobs? Isn't that more important than a statewide smoking ban right now? Jobs created means revenues brought in, a smoking ban sounds to much like a party line pledge. But I guess its easier to get a smoking ban than it is to convince a company or three to located here.

      Here's another idea! How about getting everything done in one session instead of calling a special session to finish up? That way more revenues could go to education instead of legislators pocketbooks.

  • Does anyone know how much money the lottery is contributing to education? After all that's why it was approved, right?