FRANKFORT, Ky. — After scrutinizing the legislature's budget work, Gov. Andy Beshear's biggest complaints Monday were about K-12 education funding, saying lawmakers failed to “meet the moment” during a time of unprecedented revenue surpluses.
The governor praised several priorities in the two-year state spending plan crafted by the GOP-dominated legislature. He pointed to pay raises for state workers and bolstered funding for infrastructure projects, higher education, economic development and workforce training.
His sharpest criticisms were aimed at the levels of K-12 education funding — or what was left out — as he revealed his line-item budget vetoes. Beshear's targeted vetoes included proposed pay raises for lawmakers and statewide constitutional officers, including himself.
“While we make some great investments in our future, the budget certainly doesn’t meet the moment when it comes to K-12 education.” Beshear said at a news conference.
He said lawmakers should have steered more money into the state’s main funding formula — known as SEEK — for K-12 schools. The governor said the budget approved by the legislature contained about $680 million less for SEEK than the spending plan he submitted in January.
And the governor faulted lawmakers for refusing to fund universal pre-K for every 4-year-old in Kentucky, or to include pay raises for teachers and other school staff — two of his budget priorities.
Republicans promptly fired back, saying the budget they passed last month funds full-day kindergarten, pours money into teacher pensions and increases SEEK funding while downplaying Beshear's role in the budget process.
“Once again, Gov. Beshear stands at a podium painting a picture of his leadership that doesn’t match reality,” state Republican Party spokesman Sean Southard said in a statement issued during the governor’s news conference.
Told of the GOP response as his hourlong news conference continued, Beshear replied that the criticism was “about politics.” The debate about budget and tax policies will likely continue into next year when the governor seeks reelection to a second term in Kentucky.
Republican lawmakers have said they left it up to local school districts to decide whether to use additional state funding to award pay raises to teachers and other school staff. And GOP critics of Beshear's pre-K proposal say it would threaten the state's child-care industry.
Republican lawmakers also capitalized on the state's massive revenue surpluses to pass tax legislation aimed at gradually phasing out the state individual income tax. Beshear vetoed the tax measure, which also would extend the state sales tax to more services.
Lawmakers will reconvene Wednesday for the final two days of this year's 60-day session. Taking up the governor's list of vetoes while lawmakers were away will be among their top priorities.
Despite his critique that elementary and secondary education should have received significantly more money, Beshear said overall there are “a lot of good” components in the spending plan.
“We have a lot to celebrate in this budget," he said. "It’s one of the better in modern history.”
Beshear praised the 8% pay raises awarded to state employees in the coming fiscal year. State police troopers and social workers are among those in line for even bigger pay raises.
The budget sets aside enough money for a 12% salary boost in the second year. Specific raises for state workers in the second year would be based on a Personnel Cabinet study factoring in cost of living, job duties and other variables.
The governor said the budget includes hundreds of millions of additional dollars for projects extending broadband access and providing clean drinking water and sewer systems.
The budget measure allocates $250 million from the state General Fund to support high-profile transportation projects. Specifically, the appropriation targets three projects — the Brent Spence companion bridge project in northern Kentucky, the Interstate 69 Ohio River crossing at Henderson and the completion of the Mountain Parkway expansion project.
The two-year spending plan aims to boost economic development by including $50 million each year to prepare so-called “megasites” to try to land major employers. Last year, Kentucky clinched such a project when Ford and its battery partner selected a site outside Glendale in Hardin County to build twin battery plants for the next generation of the automaker's electric vehicles.