FRANKFORT – In all of my years serving in the General Assembly, I cannot recall a more depressing time for higher education than last week. For the state, the low point came on Wednesday, when Gov. Bevin all but killed the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program, which I sponsored to make it easier for students to attend the first two years of college tuition-free.
His veto of my bill means that this year’s high school seniors will not be able to benefit this fall, and there is doubt about the fall of 2017 as well, because the General Assembly will have to start all over in determining the structure of the scholarship program and student eligibility.
For our region, the governor’s cuts to higher education this fiscal year became all too real on Friday, when Big Sandy Community and Technical College announced it would have to lay off a number of faculty and staff. I don’t think what the governor is trying is allowed under law, and Attorney General Beshear and others are fighting it in court.
I am also questioning whether the vetoes themselves are legal, and my staff is reviewing if the Governor’s veto actions and process complied with the Kentucky Constitution. If they were done incorrectly, there is a chance that the programs affected by the vetoes may be funded as the General Assembly intended and that would certainly be great news.
I regret that we even have to travel down this path. The House’s budget earlier this year showed that we could meet our sizable public-pension requirements while not cutting a dime from any aspect of education. We in the House fought to limit the damage to postsecondary education as much as possible while dealing with a Governor and Senate Republicans who insisted on making education cuts a part of a final budget agreement.
In addition to stopping the Work Ready scholarship, the governor’s veto also calls for any future funding for a scholarship program to come out of the lottery rather than other state dollars. That will hurt thousands of students who are already having a difficult time accessing the state’s lottery proceeds for financial aid.
Another blow to our region is the veto of language that would have made it possible to re-open the Otter Creek facility. This is a top priority of mine, and I believe what the House and Senate passed would have given Otter Creek two great opportunities. One would have allowed it to be used for an overflow of prisoners, to avoid a lawsuit tied to over-crowding, and the other would have used it as a secure nursing home for prisoners who are elderly or severely ill. This would have saved the state a significant amount of money by bringing in more federal dollars for their care through Medicaid.
I am troubled that a different veto will also have a negative impact on Eastern Kentucky, because it stops a planned study on extending the Mountain Parkway to Beckley, W. Va., giving us the route east we need for tourism and trade. This veto is extremely short-sighted, especially since there is interest and legislation in West Virginia as well to make this road a reality. Hillary Clinton, when she visited Louisville, was intrigued with the projects potential and could give it the national support it deserves.
The veto of the bill I sponsored for the Work Ready scholarship will also have a negative impact on $100 million in bonds the General Assembly authorized for new workforce-training facilities. The House and Senate wanted to make sure this funding was spread more evenly across the commonwealth, but that is no longer guaranteed, and I question whether the bonds can even be issued without the framework this bill provided.
Many of the budget-related vetoes removed guaranteed funding for programs and services that the General Assembly had decided were necessary and important public health issues. This will have an impact on such things as cancer screenings and the number of slots the state authorizes to help educate the next generation of veterinarians and optometrists.
One veto in particular was odd because Governor Bevin had supported the bill earlier in the legislative session. It would have brought Kentucky into compliance with a 2005 federal homeland security law that would have established a new form of driver’s licenses and personal ID. Obtaining them would have required more documentation, but it would have made it possible for citizens to fly within the United States without needing a much more expensive passport to clear security. Unfortunately, some have misconstrued the intent of this bill, whose chief goal is to make our airlines safer.
While a number of issues from this year’s legislative session remain unresolved – either because they didn’t pass or because they were vetoed – they, along with other issues, will be discussed and re-evaluated in interim committee meetings this summer and fall. Your input in this process remains very important. If you would like to let me know what you think about the new laws, the vetoes or any other issue affecting the state, my email address is [email protected] You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator by calling 800-372-7181.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.