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Budget belies big spenders’ misleading claims, provides funding for teacher raises

Editor’s Note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being published by newspapers statewide.

House leaders tossed aside the time-wasting tradition of waiting until the governor submits his spending suggestions during the General Assembly’s second week by filing House Bill 1 (HB 1) on the fourth day of this year’s session and passing the $27.8 billion General Fund budget by a vote of 85-8 on the 12th day of the 60-day legislative session.

Why not?

In the past, it was traditional – and politically expedient – for lawmakers to hide behind governors’ spending plans.

But the Kentucky Constitution assigns responsibility for determining how tax dollars get spent to the state's legislature, not its executive branch.

Of course, both branches should work together, but the budget buck ultimately stops with lawmakers, who in turn are accountable to their constituents about how tax dollars get spent.

This year Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, has provided superb leadership, pounding pavement beginning in the spring of last year to get budget review subcommittees meeting early to determine spending priorities – a wise move considering the challenges presented by the pandemic and gobs of surplus cash it and a recovering state economy are producing.

While there are some problem areas in this budget – including throwing good money after bad by dumping another $105 million into the Kentucky Wired debacle – because Petrie and the House leadership hit the ground running at the beginning of this year’s General Assembly session, there’s now sufficient opportunity for both lawmakers and their constituents outside the Frankfort bubble to weigh in on such concerns.

Who knows?

There might even be ample time remaining in this session to both pass a budget and create the kind of reforms to Kentucky’s tax policy that really fuel growth in our commonwealth and which haven’t been seen in Frankfort for decades.

But I digress.

Not only has the budget process improved, but there’s much in the current spending plan to praise, including its commitment to maintaining beefed-up rainy day reserves while eliminating the bad – and costly – habit from the past of hijacking road-fund dollars from gas taxes to prop up general government spending.

Still, this isn’t an austere budget by any means.

It contains record amounts of spending, including substantial pension contributions, historical levels of education funding and generous raises to state workers and troopers.

In fact, the House approved so much spending – more than $51 billion counting federal and state road fund dollars – that the special interests who consistently fuss about how the GOP majority supposedly doesn’t care about public services or the workers who provide them find themselves in a quandary.

They’re also revealing inflexible allegiance to an ideological narrative that no matter how much government spends, it’s never enough.

So, count on the special interests and their policy lackeys to veer away from reality toward half-truths and even outright deceptive statements.

For example, during the Kentucky Youth Advocates’ recent virtual forum on the budget, Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, repeated a slippery claim he’s made elsewhere that HB 1 doesn’t fund raises for teachers.

However, Bailey’s statement is misleading since the budget provides local school districts with record amounts of funding, making raises for teachers possible.

The House intentionally chose this local-control approach for decisions about teachers’ raises and bonuses rather than having Frankfort force a one-size-fits-all policy on all 171 school districts.

Bailey apparently doesn’t trust local school leaders to make the right decisions for their districts.

Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Harford, a former Ohio County Public Schools superintendent, supports the approach, telling the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer “we didn’t want to mandate the amount (of raises) because each district is different” and some districts might already have given raises.

Sounds like the best policy to me – even if it doesn’t fit the predictable narratives incessantly repeated by big-government, big-spending special interests.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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