Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:
The Courier-Journal on Kentucky's finances:
Near the end of his first State of the Commonwealth speech, Gov. Matt Bevin repeatedly asked for patience. "This is not a sprint," the newly elected Republican governor said of the struggle to right Kentucky's financial ship.
But Gov. Bevin and his team have been sprinting in the few short weeks since he was elected and sworn in to create a budget proposal that would act swiftly to reduce spending dramatically in many areas in order to put a lot more money into the needy pension system, which clearly must be the state's first priority.
Some of the patience needed with his budget is that it requires us to wait and see what the real impact will be, because most of the cutting will have to be determined by different agencies and institutions. Undoubtedly, everyone will find things in those decisions to oppose and to favor.
For those agencies, Gov. Bevin set off another sprint. By ordering that the cost reductions begin in the current fiscal year (already seven months over), all those affected will have to race to find savings. Getting 4.5 percent out of costs in the balance of this fiscal year almost finds the 9 percent that is expected in the next fiscal year if you assume the reductions will come in recurring costs such as payroll (meaning layoffs) and not one-time expenses.
While Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo can suggest that lawsuits (what else would a trial lawyer suggest) may arise if Gov. Bevin doesn't spend all the money budgeted by the General Assembly for the remainder of the biennium, we think that's an unlikely scenario to change the course of action.
Keep in mind this isn't the first time state government has had to tighten its belt. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear repeatedly slashed spending as the Great Recession took hold early in his term. Some of the priorities set by a Bevin administration may be different than the Beshear administration's, but it's a reality the state has dealt with before — and not all that well, given where Beshear and past General Assemblies left the pension system.
Of course, that's why those already making the direst predictions have been the state's universities, who've felt the blow of year after year of punishing budget cuts and were actually hoping Gov. Bevin would reverse that trend as he focuses on workforce development. Instead, Gov. Bevin took an idea the Council on Postsecondary Education offered to link increased funding to performance metrics and seemingly took it further, saying all higher education funding would eventually be tied to outcomes.
While the details of who will sacrifice in the budget cutting weren't available for his speech, Gov. Bevin was able to use his solicitation of ideas from the public to showcase some token increases he spread on worthy causes, including veterans and police officers. Given Kristina Goetz's investigation into the underfunded public defender system, we were pleased to see more money going there. Social services programs and workers, whose challenges Deborah Yetter has been highlighting, also will gain.
Bevin got well-deserved cheers for saying he was ending the practice of sweeping funds from various accounts into the General Fund, including the hijacking of lottery proceeds intended for education. But then James Bruggers discovered his budget swept under the rug the continued diversion of money paid for nature conservancy license plates - intended for a fund to buy and conserve land.
The budget also required some patience to dig through the proposal to find what's included (vs. what was highlighted in budget briefings and the speech) and what was excluded. Tom Loftus, for instance, found it would eliminate funding for any agency that provides abortion services and would repeal the prevailing wage in government contracts — neither surprising given Gov. Bevin's past statements but conveniently not discussed. Often, it's harder to find what's missing from a budget, but Phillip Bailey was patient in looking for Louisville's wish list and finding Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer struck out with the new Republican administration on its requests for funds for summer jobs for youths and the FoodPort, among other things..
One area where we are willing to be patient to learn more is Medicaid, where Gov. Bevin reiterated his plans to find "new and novel" ways to "cover those in need in a way that is affordable to us."
"We will create an approach to Medicaid here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that will be a model," he promised. No need for a sprint there, especially if his team delivers on that promise.
One important topic that didn't even sound as if it were walking, let alone sprinting is tax reform. Gov. Bevin said he'd like to see a tax cut but the state can't afford it. But he did little to suggest that broader tax reform - something that, like the new state budget, would have winners and losers - is on his radar. It should be.
As with everyone in a situation like this, we've highlighted things we like and those that still trouble us. We as Kentuckians must all be prepared to accept some of each as we work through this process. Patience might be the right virtue.
The Bowling Green Daily News on homelessness in Kentucky:
Being homeless has to be difficult for anyone in that position.
It's unfortunate that people are homeless. In our community, we should look after homeless people, do all we can to try to provide them with clothing, direct them to a shelter and help them find a place to put a roof over their heads.
We owe that to them, especially during the winter months when cold temperatures make it much harder on them.
Thankfully, many groups and organizations in our city do a lot for the homeless population. Not only do they provide them with meals, clothing and shelter, they do something else every year that is very important: take a yearly count to track homeless populations.
The idea behind it is to not only get an idea of the homeless population here but to get a better understanding of homelessness in Kentucky.
On Wednesday and Thursday, local organizations conducted the K-Count, a yearly effort organized by the Kentucky Housing Corp. The numbers of homeless people the group contacted won't be available for some time, but it's good to know officials with the organization will soon have an idea of what the homeless population is in our city.
These numbers will be critical for organizations helping the homeless determine how much food, bedding and clothing will be needed to help them out in the coming months. The count is also important in helping determine how much funding local organizations receive from grants.
One major concern that came out from the count was that there appears to be more homeless people this year than last year. Officials with The Salvation Army said many people visiting there had never been homeless before.
Along with LifeSkills and The Salvation Army, participating organizations included Barren River River Area Safe Space and HOTEL INC, a faith-based nonprofit focusing on poverty. Room in the Inn, a nightly shelter that alternates between churches in the county when temperatures are freezing, has also been an important organization in providing aid to the homeless in our community.
Our hats go off to all of these organizations for all of the hard work they put in not only in this count, but throughout the year in helping the homeless in our community.
We are a compassionate city and we should do all we can in the weeks, months and years ahead to help the homeless population in our community, whether it be through volunteering for one of these organizations, helping them obtain Social Security and ID cards or helping guide them to places that can provide help in hopes that they can get back on their feet again.
We should all pledge ourselves to that task.
The Kentucky New Era on state's health insurance exchange:
Gov. Matt Bevin's pledge to dismantle Kynect, the state's successful health insurance exchange, will probably be accomplished long before he secures an agreement with the federal government to make changes in the Medicaid expansion program.
While we're hopeful Bevin will make significant improvements in the expanded Medicaid program, which is part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, we are less enthusiastic about his insistence to do away with Kynect.
Kynect and expanded Medicaid are the two main components of ACA, which is also called "Obamacare," and both are optional to the states.
Kynect has been nationally recognized as one of the most efficient and successful programs to come out of the federal health care law. But Bevin has said Kynect is a duplication of services because there is already a federal exchange, HealthCare.gov.
The problem with Bevin's argument is that he fails to follow a basic tenant of conservative philosophy, which is that most government services are best delivered at the local or state level rather than the federal level. With few exceptions, federal programs are inherently inefficient compared to state-run programs.
There is a legitimate concern among supporters of Kynect that Bevin is taking down the state exchange mainly because of its association with Obama, who is widely unpopular among Kentuckians.
At this point, it is unclear how much Kentucky will have to spend to dismantle Kynect, and that's a question that needs to be settled before the state health exchange is shut down.
The previous administration, under Gov. Steve Beshear, estimated it would cost $23 million to dismantle Kynect. That figure is probably an over-estimate, but Bevin has not been able to give any estimate other than saying it will be "a small fraction" of Beshear's figure.
Kentucky spent about $57 million in federal grant money to create Kynect. Shouldn't the federal government expect some reimbursement from Kentucky for dismantling something built with federal dollars that is working so well?
And there are some questions about whether this plan will actually end the duplication of services that Bevin says he opposes.
Audrey Tayse Haynes, who was the health secretary under Beshear, recently said the state will have to maintain a call center for Kentucky residents in addition to the federal call center, Al Cross wrote for the Kentucky Health News blog. "We're going to have a different kind of duplication of services," she said.
Bevin isn't likely to back down from his pledge to dismantle Kynect, but more and more, this does not look like a good move for the state.