Republicans in the state Senate have proposed keeping most of the budget cuts sought by Gov. Matt Bevin, while rejecting House Republicans’ plan to raise about $500 million through taxes on cigarettes and pain pills.
The Senate’s version of the budget restores cuts Bevin had proposed for public school transportation funds, but colleges and universities would still see spending reductions.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, chair of the Senate budget committee, said the higher education cuts would go to fund several individual programs across the state’s college and universities.
“We pushed an additional $23 million per year, which roughly works out to the same amount of the 6.25 percent cuts,” McDaniel said. “We’re just modernizing the way we handle higher education funding.”
Bevin’s budget proposed reducing most state spending by 6.25 percent and eliminating 70 programs across state government.
The Senate’s version would restore some of those programs, including the Kentucky Poison Control Center, the Kentucky Mesonet weather monitoring system, the Robinson Scholarship at the University of Kentucky and the Center for Applied Energy Research.
The Senate budget would block the state from entering into new contracts with private prison companies — though the current contract for Nashville-based CoreCivic to operate a prison in Beattyville would continue to go forward.
Instead, the Senate budget would shift more state prisoners to county jails and also prioritize prison beds for state use before housing federal inmates.
Kentucky officials have warned that the state’s prisons will run out of space by 2019.
The Senate budget also keeps Bevin’s proposal to put about $3.3 billion into the Kentucky pension systems over the next two years — a massive amount equal to about 15 percent of total state spending.
But more of that money would go into the state’s two worst-funded pension plans: the main fund for non-hazardous duty state workers and the fund for state police officers.
Earlier this month, the state House of Representatives voted to generate new revenue by increasing Kentucky’s cigarette tax from 60 cents per pack to $1.10 per pack and creating a 25 cent tax on prescription pain killers.
McDaniel said there wasn’t support for those two measures in the Senate but other revenue-raising measures could be considered before the end of this year’s legislative session.
“I think a lot of the members of the Senate are willing to see a modernized tax code that may end up raising some revenues,” McDaniel said. “We’ll have to see what our House colleagues propose. But certainly I think that there’s a willingness on our side.”
The budget and revenue bills passed out of committee on Tuesday morning and could be considered by the full Senate as soon as Tuesday afternoon.
If the bill passes, lawmakers from both the House and Senate will negotiate a final budget to submit for Gov. Bevin’s consideration.