Two-year budget was top priority in final week

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By The Staff

As expected, the final full week of the 2010 Regular Session ended with the focus returning to the General Assembly’s top priority, the two-year state government budget.

House and Senate leaders and I began working toward common ground on Wednesday afternoon, and if all goes as scheduled, a compromise should be ready for a final vote this week.

Not surprisingly, there are some key differences between the approaches the chambers have taken in their individual budgets.  Perhaps the biggest question is whether now is the time to invest in the Commonwealth while unemployment is high and the cost of construction is low.

The House feels strongly that its $1 billion “Kentucky Jobs for Kentucky Families” program should be in the budget ultimately enacted.  It would create or retain 25,000 jobs with a payroll of nearly $700 million while rebuilding or renovating dozens of our oldest schools and bringing better water and sewer service to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

The House also does not want to cut classroom funding.  We have been able to shield our schools from the worst of the economic downturn, and while there are some difficult days still in front of us, we need to keep protecting education as much as possible.

Just as the budget is moving toward resolution, other bills are nearing the end of their journey as well.  On Wednesday, the governor signed into law legislation that would ease the financial burden of cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials.  This change will ensure that the patients are not denied insurance coverage for routine health expenses that normally would be covered if they were not part of the trial.  These Kentuckians are helping to move medicine forward and should not be penalized for their willingness to contribute to potentially life-saving research.

Although not law yet, there appears to be a growing consensus that Kentucky will join those states that have increased the high school dropout age to 18.  The House proposed moving toward this goal in 2013, but the Senate would like to delay that phase-in until 2015.

Assuming the difference can be overcome, this legislation will be a strong step toward shrinking the number of high school dropouts, estimated to be 6,000 a year.  In today’s economy, where a college degree is needed more than ever, we have to do what we can to help as many students as possible at least graduate high school.

With academics in mind, Kentucky got great news this past week when we learned that our fourth and eighth graders made more progress in reading last year than students in any other state.  This news came from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which provides what is called the “Nation’s Report Card.”  Not only are we climbing fast, but Kentucky’s scores in both grades are also above the national average.

Next week, I will provide more background on the budget and other new laws that the House and Senate have approved.  In the few days we have left, I would still appreciate hearing from you.

My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601. You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305, and the Spanish line is 866-840-6574.  If you would like to know the status of a particular bill, that number is 866-840-2835.  All of these are toll-free. I hope to hear from you soon.

State Representative Rick Rand