Local News

State Agency That Serves the Blind Considering Budget Cuts

From Stu Johnson, Kentucky Public Radio

A cash-strapped Kentucky Office for the Blind is considering some cost-cutting measures.

If adopted, some of the 400 people assisted by the agency will receive less tuition assistance, fewer cataract surgeries, and find it harder to qualify for state-provided services. Spokeswoman Allison Jessee says the proposed policy changes will be the subject of four public hearings scheduled for this month and could be implemented in June.

“The Office for the Blind currently is at almost a million dollar deficit right now for this current fiscal year,” Jessee said. “So we are having to make some significant changes in our policies in order to try to stretch that dollar.”

Jessee says several internal belt tightening measures have already been adopted. They include reductions in travel, supplies, and state vehicles. The first public hearing is set for next Monday afternoon in Lexington.

Frankfort Local News

Kentucky Court Employees Will Be Furloughed for Three Days

For the first time in a generation, Kentucky courts will temporarily close due to budget cuts.

All state court employees will be furloughed on August 6, September 4, and October 15 of this year.

Chief Justice John Minton says except for holidays, this will be the first time since 1976 that the courts have closed.

Minton blames the legislature for the furloughs. The latest state budget made massive cuts to the judicial branch. In addition to the furloughs, many part-time employees will soon see their hours reduced and their benefits cut. There will also be cuts to the number of drug court participants.

In recent years, other branches of government have furloughed workers while the judiciary handled the cuts in other ways. Minton says the latest cuts are too severe to continue that pattern.

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Beshear Orders Two Percent Cuts to State Spending

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is ordering most state agencies to cut their budgets by two percent for the current fiscal year, but that will not be enough to close a $190 million budget shortfall.

The decision was announced by State Budget Director Mary Lassiter at a joint budget committee meeting Tuesday. The plan will not include furloughs for state employees as the governor previously ordered, but it could mean agencies deciding to laying off workers.

State lawmakers mandated the governor make the cuts in this year’s budget, but the additional 2 percent cuts will save only $29 million. Several of the cuts are being made to “non-priority” programs since the administration has exempted the Department of Corrections, Medicaid, public schools, state universities and student financial aid.

Lassister told the committee another $60 million in savings will come from funds that were originally appropriated to meet debt service on building projects that will not be needed. Another $75 million is anticipated to come from a revenue surplus, but lawmakers are still concerned that additional cuts will have to be made during the General Assembly next year.

Local News Politics

Yarmuth Secures $1.1 Million for YouthBuild

Joined by community organizers and city officials , U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., presented YouthBuild Louisville with $1.1 million in federal funding that will be used to help at-risk teenagers enroll in college and find jobs over the summer.

The alternative program offers individuals aged 16-24 with job training for in-demand industry careers nationwide. Locally the group’s participants include teenagers who have been in the juvenile justice system, aging out of foster care and high school dropouts.

Yarmuth says the grants are important because these programs motivate young people in the city who many have given up on helping.

“I tend to support programs that have long-term payback to the country and the economy. And when you invest in people and take people who are statistically going to be drains on society and make them productive citizens that’s a huge turnaround in terms of the federal budget, not to speak of the lives you’ve helped,” he says.

The funding is part of a $75.4 million grant given to YouthBuild groups nationwide that will help pay for their initiatives over the next two years.

Local News

Brightside, GOP Leaders Clear Air Over Budget Memo

Leaders with Louisville Metro Government’s Brightside and Metro Council Republicans have made peace after disagreeing over a WFPL news story that had the quasi-government agency reeling over possible funding cuts.

A memorandum drafted by GOP members outlined their spending priorities for the city budget. The minority caucus recommended making cuts to any area which they listed as “non-mission critical” to city services. It lists Brightside as one of those areas that is “not mission critical” if cuts are necessary.

Rather than making equal cuts across the board, Republican Caucus Director Steve Haag says GOP members advocate for heavier cuts in areas that do not relate to public safety.

“We need to look at programs and functions that essentially if their funding is reduced or diminished, it will not be detrimental to our main goal of Metro Government which is the safety and protection of our citizens,” he says.

In a response to concerns from Brightside Director Michael Seebert, however, Republican caucus leaders said the memo does not advocate for any cuts to the beautification initiative.

“Partnering with successful entities like Waterfront Development and Brightside will move us forward faster than we can alone,” the letter reads.

Republican Caucus Chair Ken Fleming, R-7, was reached by telephone, but declined to comment because he was on vacation and Vice Chair Kevin Kramer, R-11, could not be reached for comment.

Haag says the purpose of the memo was to qualify the minority caucus’s approach to budget cuts and that Brightside misunderstood the information reported by WFPL.

“It was a perception, it wasn’t a correct perception, so basically we went and corrected that, quickly,” he says. “I don’t think there was any fault with the way it was reported, some people read it one way…and it was written correctly, it just wasn’t understood the way it was written, I guess.”

“We sent a letter to Brightside and I think everybody’s okay now and understands where everybody stands.”

You can read the GOP spending priorities and correspondence here:

Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Rogers Proposes $45.7 Billion in Federal Spending Cuts

Setting up another budget battle for the coming fiscal year, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has offered a bill that proposes cutting another $45.7 billion from domestic spending and foreign aid.

The plan would slash almost every area of the federal government except for defense spending, which would give the Pentagon an additional $17 billion from current levels.

“Many of these cuts will not win any popularity contests, but these types of reductions are imperative to overcoming our unparalleled fiscal crisis so that we can get our economy moving, create jobs and provide future financial security,” Rogers told the New York Times.

Democratic lawmakers have already criticized the cuts to domestic programs such as college aid, food safety and public health as “draconian” measures. The federal government’s fiscal 2012 begins on Oct. 1.

Local News

Daniels: Schools Could Face More Cuts Unless Economy Improves

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says he’s focused on preserving the Hoosier State’s fiscal solvency from now until the next General Assembly writes a new two-year budget.

Daniels says Indiana is on track to exhaust its $1 billion budget surplus by the end of the current budget cycle in June of next year, but is in better fiscal condition that most other states.

The Indiana General Assembly’s 30-day session adjourned Friday, and Daniels says he doesn’t anticipate any vetoes.

“At the present time i think it’s doubtful that I will (veto any bills), but a lot of things happen at the
end as they often do so I don’t know what might be in the pile somewhere,” Daniels said Monday.

Daniels commended lawmakers for passing legislation that cracks down on parents who owe child support and on school districts that allow the advancement of school children who are not academically qualifed to move forward.

He also cautioned that public schools will face an “extraordinarily difficult” budget next year unless the national economy shows significant improvement.

Local News

Four Southern Indiana Schools To Close

By Rick Howlett

The New Albany-Floyd County Board of Education has voted to close four elementary schools in the district.

Galena, Silver Street and Pine View Elementary and Children’s Academy of New Albany will shut down at the end of the current school year, with students reassigned to other schools next year.

It’s part of a broader plan by Superintendent Bruce Hibbard to cut about $6.6 million from the budget.

School districts across Indiana are looking for ways to cut costs amid a $300 million reduction in state funding.

In-Depth News Local News

Students Rally In Frankfort Against Proposed Cuts

By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

University students, concerned about the possibility of additional budget cuts to higher education, rallied Tuesday in the rotunda of the Kentucky State Capitol.

It was a small rally compared to previous years, with less than 100 students in attendance. But organizers say snow spoiled the original date and midterms were a factor this week. In his keynote address, Gov. Beshear wasted no time blasting proposed education cuts in the budget outline unveiled last week by House leaders. Beshear says rolling back two instructional days in local districts “is not a good idea.”

“Another idea floating around out here right now is to cut higher education two percent in each of the next two fiscal years,” said Beshear. “Another idea floating around out here is to have no capital construction on any college campus over the next two years.”

Beshear reminded students the cuts were not part of his budget plan, and urged them to send lawmakers a message.

You must step up, my friends,” said Beshear. “You and your friends on the college campuses throughout this state – you, the students, the faculty, the staff, the administration of our higher education institutions -must make your voices known.”

Next up was Finance Secretary Jonathan Miller, who tried to liven things up a bit with some cheerleading.

“I am Kentucky’s future!” coaxed Miller. “Let me hear you say it!”

“I am Kentucky’s future!” shouted the students.

Recalling huge rallies of previous years, when students were packed in tight – their cheers reverberating off the marble walls for all to hear – Miller warned budget cuts can mean higher tuition.

“And if the cut is really bad, potentially we might go back to the days of double-digit tuition,” said Miller. “That’s unacceptable to Gov. Beshear. That’s unacceptable to me, and I know it’s unacceptable to you as well. So, we need to have your voices heard! We need you to get to all your legislators and tell them, please spare higher education from the dramatic cuts.”

UK grad student Chris Crumrine’s listening. The student representative on the Council on Postsecondary Education says double-digit tuition increases in the middle of a recession would be unconscionable.

“I realize that institutions are all strapped,” said Crumrine. “But families are strapped, too. Students are strapped, too. And that size of a tuition increase in this current climate, I think, is asking a whole lot.”

Until lawmakers approve a budget, tuition rates remain a question mark. But Colton Jessie of Western Kentucky University hopes lawmakers are listening, because he says the state cannot cut its way to prosperity.

“There are many things at stake if higher education suffers another cut,” said Jessie. “And we need to see that a Kentucky education is a priority now and for our future. An educated Kentucky will work to create a better economy. An educated Kentucky will commit less crime, bettering our communities and lessening the burden on our expensive prison system.”

Chelsea Atwater got the final word. The Eastern Kentucky University pre-med student says several generations of her family have benefited from college educations, and she wants the same for all Kentuckians.

“As the student leaders of our respective institutions,” said Atwater, “I challenge each of you today to return to your campuses and hometowns and find creative ways to promote and demonstrate the value of a Kentucky education – creating a more fiscally sound, civically engaged, literate and healthy commonwealth for years to come.”

As the students filtered out of the rotunda and headed home, behind-the-scenes work on the state budget continued. But House leaders now say it may be the second week of March before they can move a new state spending plan to the Senate.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Fund for the Arts Launches Public Campaign

The Louisville Fund for the Arts launched the public period of its annual fundraising campaign today. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has details.

A string of arts groups and artists performed in a showcase at the Brown Theatre marking the launch of this last leg of the Fund’s current campaign. It’s raised more than $4 million so far and looks to raise $5 million more for its 27 member groups.

Last year, it raised $8.8 million of its $10 million goal.

Fund president and CEO Allan Cowen says matching grants from Yum! Brands, Brown Forman and the Humana and Gheens foundations are bolstering this campaign. The goal is to at least match the amount raised last year.

Cowen also says the current recession has caused it to work with member groups to trim nearly $3 million from their operating budgets. (In recent months, Stage One has had to cut its budget by 40 percent.) He says the cuts were necessary to make sure that all member groups survive the recession.

“If we don’t priorities now, when economic occurs, things just wont’ be here,” he says. “You will have less or you won’t have programs at all. And I think it’s one of those times you do set priorities.”

But that hasn’t kept the Fund from planning for the future. Cowen announced it is inviting all kindergarten and first-grade students, at no charge, to a Stage One production.

“And the goal is inviting the community into the arts,” Cowen says. “And we think that by beginning it with the youngest children in our community, we will be able to provide a gift to the community and build for great future audiences.”

Cowen says he expects the effort to bring up to 300,000 children to a Stage One performance.

But in the next five month, the Fund for the Arts will be going to nearly 250 businesses in the community for contributions to help it reach its campaign goal.

Related Stories
Artists Suffer Under Recession; Researchers Look at Economic Impact (includes information on Stage One)
Fund for the Arts Campaign at Midway Point