Late last week, the Kentucky General Assembly convened for the final days of the 2018 legislative session. Still to be finalized was the state budget to drive how money will be spent and the level at which services and programs will be funded. Though the General Assembly had passed the budget bill before the veto break on April 2nd, the governor vetoed the bill. The question remained on whether the legislature would simply override the veto or make any adjustments to the budget bill as passed. Last Friday, the question was answered as both the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate overrode the Governor’s veto.
When discussion on this year’s budget process were picking up last Fall, there was a lot of uncertainty about what the budget would look like. There was lots of talk about when a special session would take place to address tax reform and pensions. And many questions were on the minds of Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children partners. Would there be any opening for investments for kids and families? Would we be instead trying to hold the line on funding for core services? Would the SEEK formula be cut?
Looking at core priorities of the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, many of the priorities received solid support in the final budget. We saw vital funding for the child protective services system that investigates and responds to child abuse and neglect. We saw funding for the Kinship Care Program. The budget fully funded foster care payments to kin caregivers, as required in the court ruling late last fall. And while there are areas that were cut, education funding saw an increase to the SEEK formula and restoration of proposed cuts to Family Resource and Youth Service Centers and transportation.
For all the good components in the budget, there are areas where opportunities were missed to invest more fully in Kentucky kids. We know that the kinship funding that was allocated is just a start at what is needed to support family members who have stepped up to care for children. We know that the crucial work support for parents with young children – the child care assistance program – needs additional investment to ensure safe and affordable child care centers are available throughout the Commonwealth.
We also fell short of making a stand for the health of Kentucky teens and pregnant women by not passing a $1 increase in the tobacco tax. And while we appreciate raising revenue to help fund core services, like education, we have yet to see how the extra costs for services will impact low-income families, especially as tax reform did not include an Earned Income Tax Credit targeted to families who don’t earn enough to make ends meet.
During the months leading up to the session, partners with the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children had an ask of our legislators. We called on them to build a budget that prioritizes children and families. All in all – and especially when considering what could have been – they did make decisions to prioritize kids and families in the face of many tough choices. As we move ahead, we can and must ensure we have sufficient revenue to do what it takes to ensure all children have the opportunities to succeed.