As KY recovers from storms, Beshear issues political warning

Published 2:17 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

FRANKFORT — After eleven tornadoes hit Kentucky Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear warned that the quick emergency response might not be replicable under the currently pending budget.

The National Weather Service confirmed EF1 tornadoes in Boyd, Clark, McCracken, Mason, Anderson, Bourbon, Henry, Jessamine, Jefferson and Nelson counties and an additional EF2 tornado in Boyd County.

EF1 tornadoes typically cause moderate damage with 86 to 110 mph winds, while EF2 tornadoes cause considerable damage with up to 135 mph winds.

Fayette, Mercer, Spencer and Woodford counties incurred wind damage, while over a dozen additional counties suffered some other form of damage.

There was one fatality, but no other major injuries reported or any missing persons. Beshear said there is no approximation of the total damage cost yet, but it includes roads, bridges, public buildings and power, water and wastewater utilities.

Power outages are down to about 3,500 from an initial 32,000 households. Major interstate power lines are back up and most roads are open.

Beshear said Kentuckians’ weather awareness was the key to minimal loss of human life.

“I feel like if this were eight or 10 years ago, we would have lost a lot more people,” he said. “But let’s keep it up. Let’s make sure that we don’t become numb, no matter how many of these we go through.”

An emergency funding cap

Beshear used the storm as an opportunity to reinforce his opposition to one provision in the legislature’s proposed biennial budget.

The budget includes funding caps on several areas of emergency response handled by the executive branch.

It allows up to $25 million in “necessary government expenses” for immediate responses to emergencies and natural disasters.

The budget also allows the Department of Military Affairs to request up to $75 million for matching funds for federal aid in FY24, and $50 million in FY25 and FY256.

There is a $4 million cap for fighting forest fires.

If the executive branch reaches its limit, the General Assembly would have to return to Frankfort for a special session to appropriate additional money. Beshear said that would take too long.

“Those are precious moments, minutes, hours and days where we have to be responding immediately,” he said.

The executive branch wouldn’t be able to open state parks for impacted individuals free of charge or deploy the National Guard once the cap was reached. If it did, Beshear would have to hope the legislature would reimburse those expenses.

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, chairman of the House Appropriations & Revenue Committee, responded to criticism over the emergency caps several times throughout the session.

“If we have such a cataclysmic event that we would exceed a reasonable cap amount on each (nongovernmental entity), it would probably be appropriate for the General Assembly to be consulted regarding such an issue, and decide what policy changes or statutory changes or other funding changes are necessary to address that issue,” Petrie said.

He added that planning for a budget when certain groups have unlimited spending is difficult.

Beshear said the cap threshold isn’t high enough. The $75 million is for FEMA or other federal matches that could be a year or two away, he said. Only the $25 million would be available for immediate response.

Beshear said they would have exceeded that cap in the first three to four months of this fiscal year, without a major natural disaster.

“Why set a threshold so low that you know you’re not going to be able to meet it and you risk not being able to respond to a natural disaster in the way that you should and that you need to?” Beshear asked.

What’s next?

Beshear said he will line item veto the emergency cap section of the budget, but the majority Republican legislature is likely to override his veto.

In the meantime, he encouraged Kentuckians to photograph and report all storm damage to their local county emergency management officials.

It’s crucial to get reliable information so that the federal government decides there’s enough damage to justify individual assistance, Beshear said.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need the individual assistance, but there are people out there that do,” he said. “And so you reporting your damage might be the difference between somebody who really needs that extra help getting it and it not being available.”