KCTCS speakers differ with Bevin on funding
Visitors to the state Capitol rotunda Feb. 18 expecting a war of words between Gov. Matt Bevin and educators rallying against his proposed budget cuts did not get a battle royal. Instead, Bevin defended his budget, issued a proclamation marking Feb. 18 as "Kentucky Community and Technical College System Day," then left the packed rotunda before KCTCS backers spoke. KCTCS president Jay K. Box introduced Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton as "two of Kentucky's biggest workforce champions," and praised Bevin for his ongoing tour of KCTCS campuses. "Governor, thank you for your commitment to our unique mission of workforce education and training that provides every Kentucky citizen with the opportunity to get a good-paying job ." Box said. ". We know these are difficult financial times for our state. You and the members of the General Assembly have a very important and difficult job to do. But we want to let you know that as the largest institution of higher education that fuels Kentucky's current and future workforce, we also have a very important and difficult job to do." Box told Bevin that KCTCS officials wanted to work with him to make "smart investments in KCTCS that achieve your objective of enhanced economic development and job growth." Box said they knew Bevin had limited time that afternoon, was very happy he could join them, and asked for a round of applause for him, which the new governor received. Bevin took to the podium and, speaking without notes, praised educators while defending his budget proposal for about 14 minutes. Bevin surveyed the crowd, packed with visitors for the KCTCS Business Champions Rally. "It's always good when you see people all the way up to the third level. You know something that important is happening down here in the rotunda ." Bevin said. Bevin said he knew educators had testified before House and Senate committees about the cuts (which he proposed to address tens of billions in underfunded funds for state employee and teacher pensions). Bevin said when he asked people where in Europe the greatest engineering and production goods come from, nine of 10 answered Germany. "Why should people not think the exact same thing about Kentucky? Why should not people think about, 'When you want something well-made, well-engineered by well-trained, well-skilled, workforce-ready people in America, why not Kentucky?" Bevin asked. "This is what we can be; this is what we will be. "Yet, it is also important to understand that we in this state have a tremendous financial crisis. . and while it would be great to just sit here and only focus on the proclamation and only focus on the happiest parts of this, the testimony that has just taken place . as people come to terms with the budget, has to deal with reality. And the reality is, we have a cost of tens and tens of billions of dollars that every one of the students at this institution and its many arms . has a financial obligation to pay off this bill," Bevin said. Bevin said there were four ways to address the pension crisis: to ignore it, borrow money "and stick it to our children and grandchildren," increase taxes, or cut nine percent from higher education. "Nine cents is not, as has often been said, draconian. It's a word that people love to use when they're presenting in front of budget panels. Draconian is cruel and unusual. There's nothing cruel and unusual about doing the very things that each of us is required to do in our own homes, in our own businesses, in our lives, every single day," Bevin said. Bevin asked those assembled to ask their legislators to pass his budget, in part, because it sets aside $31 million a year in state lottery proceeds for student financial aid. "Additionally, there's $100 million in this budget for workforce development. There is no institution as well-positioned, well-poised and currently as well-tracked to deliver on exactly what is needed . than the very technical schools (KCTCS branches) that we're talking about right now," Bevin said. Bevin said the nine percent cut from his proposed two-year $1.8 billion allocation for post-secondary education was "coincidentally" equaled by $62 million from Kentucky Lottery proceeds and the $100 million for workforce development. After signing and presenting the proclamation, Bevin and Hampton left to a round of applause. Several of the KCTCS "Business Champions" delivered short speeches, none of them explicitly critical of Bevin, though Box, who spoke last, took aim at the governor's math. "As most of you know, in the last seven years our state appropriations have been cut (by) $39 million. With proposed additional cuts of $17 million, that total will rise to $56 million. The governor spoke about nine cents, as if nine cents of a dollar is not very much. But if you look at the cumulative costs over the eight years, and now nine years, that nine cents added to 16 more cents that we've already been cut - that's 25 cents of a dollar. "We've already become efficient within KCTCS, as I've mentioned. We've tightened our belt and we have made great efforts to keep our tuition low, because we will be the most affordable and accessible institution in this state," Box said. He encouraged attendees to talk to their legislators and encourage others to do so, too. ". Tell them the proposed reductions will put Kentucky further behind and significantly impact our ability to produce the highly skilled workforce Kentucky businesses need," Box said. One of those legislators in the rotunda was state Rep. James Kay, whose district includes KCTCS headquarters. Kay said there was a disconnect between Bevin's words of support for KCTCS schools and his budget proposal. "In the same breath that he said we can't afford . more debt, he also mentioned $100 million in bonding debt (the workforce development increase) that he has suggested in his budget. So some of the words that he has don't meet up with the realities of his budget," Kay said. The Versailles legislator acknowledged that Bevin came into office facing massively under-funded teacher and state employee pension obligations. "I completely agree, and that has got to be our number one budget priority. But when you go to look towards cutting, the areas of education are the ones that have to be held harmless ." Kay said, adding that higher tuition costs will force students to, in essence, "bond" more of their own debt. Kay predicted the Democratic-controlled House will restore some or all of the higher education cuts, but added, ". given the nature of the budget, I don't know if that's possible ."