Fall mornings with Kentucky’s hills and valleys blanketed in fog create a picture-perfect landscape. While I appreciated the view on a recent morning drive, I breathed a sigh of relief when the fog lifted. The budget news for state government in Kentucky has been dire for months as the looming pension crisis has created a fog around the state budget. Recent revenue forecasts predicting another budget shortfall to the tune of $200 million have made the budget landscape even less clear. While we still don’t know how aggressively the pension reforms will be tackled, as the fog lifts on the budget issues Kentucky faces, the picture that is emerging is troubling.
To deal with the expected revenue shortfalls and refill money in the state’s rainy-day fund, Governor Matt Bevin has proposed 17.4 percent cuts to most agencies in state government. Reports say several parts of state government that provide critical services for Kentucky children were protected from those cuts, including the primary funding formula for Kentucky schools, Medicaid, and public colleges and universities. Yet many other services on which children and families rely haven’t been reported as protected.
In the face of this dire news on lagging revenues and pension obligations, Kentucky kids need a budget that prioritizes them. Kentucky’s future depends on prosperous communities and strong families. And Kentucky kids and their families currently benefit from state investments in their education, health, economic security, and safety. Parents who earn limited incomes rely on the Child Care Assistance Program so their children are cared for safely while they work. Kids rely on the Department for Community Based Services to protect them if abuse and neglect is suspected and to invest in programs that keep families together safely. Children and communities rely on the Department of Juvenile Justice for programs that are effective at reaching the goals of getting youth on track to become productive members of their community.
Budgets are about tough choices and priorities, and we need to protect investments in our children. With Governor Bevin’s and the legislature’s track record of prioritizing kids, we expect they will make the tough choices – whether that be raising revenue or protecting programs – to build a budget for kids. Our communities and the economy can only win when Kentucky kids and their families succeed.