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State budget will be tough work

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The second week of session saw several significant issues begin to be debated in committees. Drug abuse, weaknesses in child-protective services and the state’s debt level were all topics of discussion. The committee process is intended to inform the legislators of the pros and cons of each bill. Lively debate accompanied each piece of legislation.

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, we were scheduled to hear from the governor when he presents his budget proposal to the General Assembly. As I have reported in the past, our budget situation is serious and while the General Assembly directed cost-cutting measures and other efficiencies such as reducing personal service contracts and merit employees (those who are politically appointed) in the budget, the governor vetoed those measures. Now, he will issue his solution to our state’s budget problems.

We in the Senate take very seriously our responsibility to be fiscally prudent. Our budgets have always relied on less borrowing than either the governor’s or the House’s proposals. I share your concerns regarding the level of spending and borrowing. One of the first bills approved in committee this week would mandate a cap on the state’s general fund bonded debt. Senate Bill 56 would impose a constitutional limit on bonded debt supported by general fund appropriations at 6 percent of revenues. This proposal would formalize that in the state constitution, to forever ensure that future Legislatures adhere to what most agree is an appropriate and manageable level of debt.  A clause in the proposal would allow the governor to exceed the 6 percent cap in an emergency situation, only if four-fifths of the General Assembly membership agrees.

Some of the most vulnerable citizens in our state took center stage during this week’s Health and Welfare Committee meeting. 

They again discussed how the implementation of the governor’s Medicaid managed care program was off to a rocky start. For example, the committee heard testimony from therapists in the Impact Plus behavioral health program. These good people work with abused and neglected children who are at risk of being removed from their homes.

Many of these providers are worried that they might have to shut down their work, leaving 5,700 children without a safety net, because the Cabinet of Health and Family Services hasn’t made its payments since Nov. 1. We need to put an end to the chaos occurring at the cabinet. Senators from different parts of the state, both Republican and Democrat, relayed concerns from their constituents who are pharmacists, doctors and dentists who state that the cabinet has been late or nonresponsive with their payments. These health care providers work hard and benefit communities greatly, but obviously they should not and cannot be expected to work for free.

 Finally, the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on methamphetamine abuse and looked at how to cut down the number of labs in Kentucky.  They heard from several experts on the state’s meth epidemic. University of Kentucky researchers and seasoned drug enforcement professionals from Oklahoma and Mississippi testified on the scope of meth-lab incidents, as well as the effectiveness of previous and current anti-meth legislation in the state and nation. This is a complex problem that will require thoughtful legislation. We want to curb meth abuse while being mindful of the rights of law-abiding citizens.

The House of Representatives passed its redistricting plan this week. We will be taking up the Senate’s plan next week. Along with the governor’s budget address, we anticipate several bills reaching the Senate floor for our consideration. As always, please feel free to contact me about any of the above issues or any other matter.  To leave a message for me, or any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, represents the 26th District including Carroll, Henry, Oldham, Trimble counties as well as a portion of Jefferson County.