Gov. Steve Beshear‘s budget address may have been a wake-up call for those who didn’t think things were as bad as they seemed. For others, it may have been a realization that the bold leadership Beshear campaigned on was nothing but campaign rhetoric.
There will be a $165 million cut in spending next year, and it will hit most areas of the state, save K-12 education and Medicaid. Higher education may have been the hardest hit.
U of L chief James Ramsey told the C-J: “. . . it’s going to be impossible for us to continue to move forward, and the question becomes will we be able to keep from backsliding.” UK’s Lee Todd said it will create a $50 million shortfall. Of note, this comes the day after Todd hired a VP of diversity for $210,000 a year.
But Beshear’s speech was full of those sorts of contradictions. Drastically cut spending here, but make up for it with a questionable expenditure there.
Beshear presented nothing bold last night. He preserved the funding for public schools, but said there would be no raises for teachers. And he authorized 2 percent raises (not much, but more than teachers are getting) for state employees, and said nothing about cuts to the state work force. He preserved $6 million for the Louisville Zoo and many other capital projects, and put money into the Bucks for Brains programs, but told University presidents to get by with less.
What he didn’t do was push for a cigarette tax increase that could solve many of the state’s financial problems, stubbornly sticking to a no new taxes pledge. When he finally got around to his number one campaign issue, casino gaming, it was sort of an add-on at the end. Senate president David Williams was quick to say that his proposal would face stiff opposition in the Senate. And Beshear spared state employees any pain, refusing to say he would cut jobs in state government.
He didn’t talk about cutting state government jobs or the money he would realize from an efficiency audit. He didn’t talk about money-saving suggestions he may have received after pleading with citizens for ideas during his most recent speech. Beshear asked university presidents to give, but showed no willingness to sacrifice his own perks. Heck, he’s already started using the state plane for political purposes.
In fact, Beshear set himself up for a wide range of criticism by authorizing spending in certain areas – like capital projects, while hitting other parts of state government (higher education) hard.
Rather than announce bold initiatives in areas he campaigned on, such as economic development and pre-school education, he said he would form committees or task forces to study those issues. Right, set up a committee to study the problems.
Many of those interviewed after the speech said this was only the start of the battle in Frankfort. Sadly, they’re right.