State lawmakers from west Kentucky say a potentially tight state budget next year will make priorities on both sides of the aisle difficult to manage.
1st District Representative Steven Rudy (R-Paducah) spoke Wednesday morning to the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, alongside other state GOP legislators including Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Paducah), Rep. Richard Heath (R-Mayfield), Rep. Chris Freeland (R- Benton) and Rep. Randy Bridges (R-Paducah).
Rudy is in a key position to shape next year’s state budget as the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations and Revenue. State Republicans will also have supermajorities in both the senate and house.
Rudy said existing obligations including funding the state pension system, covering the costs of expanded Medicaid and other projects like the state broadband initiative KentuckyWired are eating into available funds next year. A memo from former Governor Matt Bevin’s administration said the state could be potentially facing a budget shortfall of over $1 billion.
“Of all the things we’re currently doing and all the things that have been promised in the [gubernatorial] campaign by the guy that won, we’re already one-and-a-half billion dollars in the hole,” Rudy said. “The General Assembly will have the final say, and we’ll have to make the numbers work.”
Governor Andy Beshear campaigned this fall on several promises to invest in public education, including to fund a $2,000 raise for public school teachers to combat the statewide teacher shortage. Last week’s memo also estimated that raise would cost $97 million annually. Rudy said funding for the raise is possible, but nothing is guaranteed.
“By the time you factor in how much we’re spending on teacher’s pensions and everything else, we’re spending record levels of taxpayers' money on that. We’ll look at it. We’ll consider. I’m not saying ‘no’ to anything,” Rudy said. “Whatever the Consensus Forecasting Group gives us as a revenue estimate is what the House budget will be based on.”
The Consensus Forecasting Group is a state legislative organization that estimates the amount of revenue for the state general fund and road fund. Despite a potentially tight budget, Rudy said he believes the state GOP and Beshear’s administration will be able to find common ground next year.
Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce leaders also presented their funding priorities next year to state lawmakers, primarily to build a new terminal for Barkley Regional Airport.
Chamber President Sandra Wilson said she understands the state budget might be tight next year. But she said she hopes the legislature sees the regional impact the airport has in west Kentucky.
“We also feel like the state would benefit greatly from having a new terminal, having the opportunity to be more successful,” Wilson said. “So, that’s what we’re going to continue to ask for.”
The chamber is asking the state for $10 million for the project. This request goes along with $2.2 million the airport received from the Federal Aviation Administration in September. The chamber’s other priorities include tax reform and continued funding for transportation needs.
Specifically, the chamber wants the legislature to expand the ability for all cities in Kentucky to levy a consumption-based restaurant tax.
The tax would be paid by residents and visitors who dine in local restaurants, and chamber leaders say the extra revenue could be used for quality of life projects in Paducah. Currently, only cities with a population between 999 and 8,000 people can implement a restaurant tax, based on grand-fathered city classification statutes.
Wilson said much of the chamber’s efforts this year will be to build new relationships with Beshear’s administration.