Kentucky Speaker of the House David Osborne joined Rep. Brett Guthrie Thursday in Owensboro to discuss the ins and outs of developing a state budget in the midst of a pandemic.
Osborne said he’d spent the last few weeks traveling across the state to hear from his constituents about their concerns, ideas and needs.
“They really have been informed. Most of the time, people see government folks at things like fundraisers and things like that, and we’ve stayed away from that,” he said. “We wanted to make this about listening to the people of Kentucky and mainly hearing what people need. We’ve got a big job ahead of us in 2021, and it’s going to be pretty important we get as close to right as we can. We know that people’s lives are on the line.”
Osborne admitted that the opening General Assembly session of 2021 would be “a little daunting,” especially in regard to configuring the state’s budget during a global pandemic.
“We’re going to be doing a budget under the most bizarre of circumstances imaginable,” he said. “We’re still going to have very little confidence in the numbers we get. It’s almost impossible to model this. It’s very, very difficult.”
Osborne said the House would continue using a forecasting group to help them crunch the numbers in developing a budget that would be both responsible and well thought out.
“The consequences — not only of making long-term policy — but looking at some of the short-term policy effects going forward is impacting the daily lives of people,” he said. “That’s not to be taken lightly, and we won’t take it lightly.”
Basing projections on current revenues had been a troubling task thus far, Osborne said. Though he said current revenues remained strong at the state level, to make projections based on revenues that had been largely stabilized through federal CARES Act funding made it nearly impossible to predict what would happen in 2021.
“We know [the CARES Act funding] is going to end,” he said. “Probably over the next couple of months — because the first round of CARES money is starting to taper off now. Hopefully … by the middle of December, we’ll have a little bit more of a lead over what those projections are going to be.”
One of the COVID-19 impacts Osborne said he found most concerning was the depletion of the state’s unemployment insurance fund. A significant amount of federal monies had already been borrowed to fill in the deficit, he said.
Guthrie said the federal government opened up unemployment insurance to self-employed businesses because of COVID-19, such as barbers or Uber drivers. In doing that, it allowed more people to qualify for unemployment insurance without those individuals having to pay into it.
“And so, it’s not fair just to have businesses make up that difference, and so, I think those are areas where we do COVID relief,” he said.
Guthrie said the first CARES Act was meant to be viewed through a short-term lens. However, the length of the virus’ stay changed the way lawmakers had to adjust to more of a long-term relief program for both individuals and states.
“What I think we don’t want to do, and Senator McConnell doesn’t want us to do, and I don’t think the American people want us to do, is go bail out states for passing pre-COVID spending decisions,” he said.
Osborne agreed, saying states who were struggling financially before COVID-19 shouldn’t be bailed out by the federal government for those shortfalls.
“I don’t think we need to use the virus as an excuse for past management decisions,” he said. “This needs to be stuff that’s related to the virus directly.”