Local state legislators not sold on spending plan

March 12, 2004|HERB BROCK

The state legislators that represent Boyle County approve continuing efforts to restore money to elementary and secondary education but aren't totally sold on the current version of the spending plan containing the latest restorations.

Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Junction City, and Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, commented on the state budget, which recently was passed by the House on a party line vote and sent to the Senate, and other legislation involving education and other issues confronting the 2004 General Assembly at a dinner hosted Thursday night by the Danville Board of Education.

Among those other issues they touched on was the tax modernization plan unveiled Thursday by Gov. Ernie Fletcher as a "revenue-neutral" effort to make the state's tax system fairer and to increase jobs. Both lawmakers said they had favorable first impressions of the plan but needed to find out more details before offering an opinion.

The proposal in the tax plan to increase the cigarette tax from 3 cents to 29 cents per pack would represent a steep increase but is still much lower than the 43 cents per pack originally proposed and a lot lower than cigarette taxes in most other states, said Buford.


Concerning the state budget passed recently by the House with 64 Democrats voting for it and 36 Republicans voting against it, the two Republican legislators said they generally support the funding plan for public schools but are concerned about other aspects of the document.

At the start of the budget-making process, Fletcher proposed a plan that contained several cuts in many areas, including family resource centers and after-school programs. Since then, the governor has found about $50 million, including $20 million in what would be salaries and benefits to state employees whose positions eventually will be eliminated, and put that in education. The House found another $22 million in "put-backs" for education, Buford said.

The House budget includes a 3 percent increase in pay for certified and classified personnel next school year, with the state paying half of that and local districts paying half, and a 4.5 percent increase for 2005-06 with the state paying all of the increase. Both amounts are more than what Fletcher had proposed.

Rowland says it's too early to tell about impact of increase in money

Danville Superintendent Bob Rowland said it is too soon to say what impact the increase in state money for the raises and the availability of more money overall for education than was in the governor's initial budget would have on the district's budget.

Based on revenue data from the state Department of Education, the Danville board recently approved a contingency plan under which 10 positions, including all five technology resource teachers in the district, could be trimmed.

The legislators' concerns about the overall budget passed by the House include Harmon's questions about the $1.4 billion bonding authority contained in it. Based on the language in the budget bill about the bonding, Harmon said the money could be used for "almost anything," not just major projects that "enhance the public good" like water line extensions."

"You theoretically could issue bonds to repair toilets," he said.

Also, Harmon noted that the money is allocated by legislative district and that, while Democrats hold 64 percent of the seats in the House, 90 percent of the bonding money would go to Democrat districts.

Buford said the Republican-controlled Senate would remedy that situation by having bonding money allocated to districts based on population and need.

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