FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Pledging to put Kentucky’s “financial house in order,” Republican Gov. Matt Bevin proposed spending cuts of more than 6 percent across most of state government that include targeting administrative salaries in some of the state’s largest school districts while shielding per pupil spending in the classroom.
Bevin announced the cuts in a speech Tuesday evening before a joint session of the General Assembly. The cuts were long expected, given that lawmakers failed to make changes to the state’s public pension system that Bevin said would have reduced the need for cuts. Bevin’s plan would spend $3.3 billion dollars into the state’s public retirement system, or nearly 15 percent of all state spending.
“The reality is we don’t have enough money to meet the obligations this state has,” Bevin said
Bevin said his plan would not cut classroom spending. Instead, he said, the cuts would come to places like transportation, saying it is “not going to be funded to the same degree by the state as they have historically.”
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He said districts could make up for those cuts by reducing “administrative overhead.” He mentioned the Jefferson County Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the country, noting the district has 600 administrators who make more than $100,000 a year.
“That’s where the cuts are going to come from,” Bevin said. “We need to clean that up in a big way.”
For smaller districts without a large administration, Bevin said districts will have to rely on their reserves. He noted Kentucky’s public school districts collectively have nearly $1 billion in cash in reserves.
“I’m going to ask these school districts to tap these reserves. This is exactly what it was intended for, for times like these that try men’s souls,” Bevin said, recalling a quote by philosopher Thomas Paine.
House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins said he has not seen the governor’s budget proposal but said it was important to have “quality administrators that help run our school system.” He said he was concerned about how Bevin’s cuts would affect rural school districts.
“I worry about those school districts that don’t have any reserves,” he said.
Republican House and Senate leaders said they agree with Bevin’s proposals in general but want to examine them more closely.
“I do think it keeps with his commitment to keeping dollars in the classroom, and I think it’s important to do that,” acting House Speaker David Osborne said.
Bevin was not specific about the cuts, saying several times people will find out about them later. He boasted he eliminated funding for 70 programs, but did not name them. Much of the spending plan’s details won’t be known until the full plan is filed in the House. State lawmakers must approve of the two-year spending plan before it becomes law.
Instead, Bevin used his speech to focus on what he does want to pay for. He vowed to spend an additional $34 million to fight the opioid epidemic, with a focus on helping pregnant women addicted to drugs. He pledged to spend $24 million to hire more social workers and give raises to the ones already employed. And he promised to spend an extra $10.8 million for supporting adoption and foster care children.
Bevin’s budget cuts appear lighter than many initially feared. Late last year, Bevin asked state agencies to prepare for spending cuts of as much as 17.4 percent. The state’s prosecutors revolted, telling lawmakers that cuts like that would force the criminal justice system to shut down. But Bevin’s spending plan calls for funding for 75 new prosecutors and 51 public defenders across the state.
“It is a realistic budget. It is one that is not wishful thinking. It is one we must pass, and it will set us on course to set our house in order,” Bevin said.
The legislature is off to a slow start in 2018, partly because of a sexual harassment scandal that prompted former GOP House Speaker Jeff Hoover to resign his leadership position and three other Republican lawmakers to lose their titles as committee chairmen. Bevin did not mention the scandal directly, but noted lawmakers “find ourselves divided on issues of morality” and urged people across the state to consider running for the legislature.