Plan gives lawmakers authority over spending federal aid

Published 6:28 am Monday, March 15, 2021

Republican lawmakers unveiled a state budget plan Saturday that stakes out their authority over how Kentucky spends its next massive infusion of federal pandemic relief.

The spending proposal — the result negotiations led by House and Senate GOP leaders — is mostly a continuation of the current budget passed last year when COVID-19 was taking hold of the country.

Kentucky’s government is expected to receive about $2.4 billion in new pandemic federal aid, and the budget bill would give the GOP-dominated legislature “express authority” over how it’s spent.

That provision would rein in Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who used previous federal pandemic assistance to provide eviction relief funding, coronavirus testing, contact tracing and other programs, while lawmakers watched from the sidelines.

The move by GOP lawmakers in Kentucky to assert authority over spending new federal assistance comes after congressional Republicans unanimously opposed the relief bill.

Senate budget committee Chairman Chris McDaniel said he hopes lawmakers have discussions with Beshear in coming days over how the next round of pandemic relief is used.

“Ultimately the governor is responsible to go out to execute on those things and certainly has a major seat at the table as we decide them, but constitutionally the legislature is who is charged with the oversight of the spending,” McDaniel said in an interview Saturday.

The provision applies to money that state government has flexibility in spending, the GOP senator said. It wouldn’t apply to federal aid allocated to city and county governments, he said.

Lawmakers have four days left in their 30-day session — this coming Monday and Tuesday, followed by two days in late March. Budget bills for the coming year, starting July 1, are expected to be voted on either Monday or Tuesday and then sent to Beshear.

The governor can make line-item vetoes in a budget bill, but Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers, easily giving them enough votes to override vetoes.