No one expected fireworks over the Capitol when Gov. Ernie Fletcher outlined his 2006-2008 budget to the General Assembly Tuesday night, and no one was surprised.
Despite totaling nearly $18 billion, the budget contains too little new revenue to do much more than barely meet the need for pay raises and spending on Medicaid, all areas of public education, prisons and other state services and programs.
To his credit, Fletcher is giving the lowest paid state employees the biggest raises, but overall, raises for state workers and teachers barely, if at all, keep up with inflation. How that will raise teachers salaries to the average of surrounding states isnt clear. And there still is that gaping unfunded hole in the state employees pension plan.
Fletchers budget provides for $1 billion in construction projects, many at state universities and colleges, but it gives higher education far less new money than requested by the Council on Postsecondary Education. That raises the possibility of yet another round of tuition increases.
The budget also gives Louisville and Lexington $100 million to build two promised arenas in those cities.
In essence, then, Kentucky will coast along for another two years and hope that an improving state economy will generate a surplus of tax revenues to offset the meager new spending in the budget. An economic downtown, however, could be disastrous.
Fletchers proposed budget also is likely to set off heavy lobbying of legislators by advocates on behalf of programs and services seeking a larger share of the fiscal pie than the governor sought. Many lawmakers running for re-election this year will seek to be all things to all people in the new budget.
Kentuckians will know the final tally when the House and Senate complete their inevitable negotiations over what will be two different spending plans crafted by each chamber.
The only sure bet at this point is that the courts have made it virtually certain that some form of a budget will pass and be sent to Fletcher for his signature.