Republican senators reveal their version of Kentucky's next two-year budget

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Senate Republicans revealed their version of the state's next two-year budget Wednesday, proposing more funding for the main K-12 school funding formula and doubling the amount of performance-based funding that goes to public universities.

The spending blueprint won Senate passage later in the day, hours after it cleared a Senate committee. The ultimate version of the spending plan — the state's main policy document — will be hashed out in coming days by House and Senate conferees. The GOP holds supermajorities in both chambers.

A separate spending bill also gaining Senate passage Wednesday would tap into the state’s massive budget reserves to make a number of one-time investments. Senators made several additions to the House version, including a $75 million appropriation to deliver an additional pension payment for retirees in the Kentucky Employee Retirement System to help cushion them from the impact of high inflation.

Those one-time funding priorities also include $50 million for an economic development fund to assist business recruitment in areas plagued by high unemployment and a combined $37 million for cancer centers in Middlesboro in eastern Kentucky and in Bullitt County, south of Louisville. Other Senate additions included funding for airport projects and improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“I think that the discipline we’ve shown over the last decade has given us the opportunities to make the investments we’re making now for the next decade,” Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel, chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, told reporters earlier in the day.

The Senate's version of the state's main budget bill, like the House version, left out two of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's biggest priorities — guaranteed pay raises for teachers and access to preschool for every Kentucky 4-year-old. Republican lawmakers in both chambers want to direct additional money to school districts, but leave it up to local school boards to decide whether to award pay raises to teachers.

The Senate plan would increase funding for SEEK — the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools — by nearly $100 million, according to a Senate Republican news release.

Per-pupil funding would rise to $4,368 — a $117 million increase — in the first fiscal year and $4,455 in the second year — a $154 million increase, the release said. Those amounts match the same increases proposed in the House budget. The current amount is $4,200 per student.

Under the Senate version, the state would cover 80% of the costs to transport K-12 students to and from school in the first year of the budget cycle and 90% in the second year. The House proposed covering 100% of those costs in the second year of the biennium.

Senators proposed more than doubling the the amount of state funding awarded to public universities through performance-based funding, raising the amount to about $200 million per year.

The Senate plan supports each university's top priority project through bond fund authorization, except for Kentucky State University. For KSU, the Senate version would double the amount of asset preservation funding for campus revitalization projects, McDaniel said.

State employees would receive a 2.6% pay raise in each of the two years under the Senate proposal.

The Senate budget includes extra funding over the two years to enable state police to increase the number of cadets who go through training to become troopers.

Juror compensation would increase from $5 to $25 per day under the Senate plan.

The state's next two-year budget cycle begins July 1.