Louisville reaps budget wins, some criticize state micromanagement

Published 2:30 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

LOUISVILLE — Several dozen Louisville political and community leaders gathered outside the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts Monday to celebrate the city’s wins in the recently passed biennial budget.

But at the same time, some are concerned that the legislature is trying to micromanage Kentucky’s largest city.

What did Louisville get in the budget?

This year’s budget invests $1.186 billion in Louisville area initiatives across the next two years. Legislators tackled a wide array of needs, from infrastructure to healthcare to the arts.

Louisville Metro Government got $100 million for downtown projects: the Community Care Campus, LOUMED Campus, downtown vacant lot revitalization, Louisville Gardens, Butchertown Sports District and renovation of the Belvedere, an outdoor event space along the Ohio River.

The University of Louisville is receiving over $400 million, the greatest level of university funding in history, said President Kim Schatzel.

Some beneficiaries include the university’s cybersecurity program, rural dental outreach program, manufacturing extension partnership and UofL’s Center for Rural Cancer Education and Research.

$300 million of the appropriation will go toward creation of a new health sciences center downtown focused on simulation and collaboration technologies. Schatzel said the hub will be key in addressing healthcare worker shortages and advancing research to treat and cure cancer and other diseases.

Other Louisville budget winners include the Louisville Free Public Library, The Louisville Orchestra, Jefferson Memorial Forest, Kentucky Science Center, Simmons College and the Healing Place, which provides comprehensive addiction recovery services.

How did this happen?

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said the investments show what can happen when political leaders from across the state work together, even if they don’t align on every issue.

“There is so much that we do agree on,” he said. “We all want to improve public safety, we all want to improve education, we all want everyone to have safe and affordable housing. So let’s find those areas of common ground and work hard together.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Greenberg’s intentional communication with the state legislature made a difference.

He added that Jefferson County has a mission beyond its geographical boundaries in education, healthcare, arts and humanities, tourism and transportation.

It would be unwise to turn away from an economic engine like Louisville, which contains nearly a fifth of the state’s population and produces a similar proportion of its revenue, Stivers said.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said two major factors contributed to Louisville’s budget success this year.

First, since the 2022 elections, there’s been a greater sense of comradery, both between Mayor Greenberg and the legislature and within the Louisville delegation, which has historically been a bit territorial.

Second, in the eight years since Republicans gained a majority in Kentucky’s legislature, Osborne said they’ve made a commitment to get the state’s financial house back in order.

In the past three budget cycles, he said they’ve taken in more revenue than they’ve spent, after decades of overspending and overpromising. Now, Osborne said, they can reap the benefits of those policy choices.

Louisville micromanagement?

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, commented that although they were there to celebrate the good decisions the legislature made, that wasn’t the whole story.

“I would be remiss if I did not mention that there were are some unanswered questions and implications with respect to legislation regarding its relationship with Louisville this past session,” Neal said.

During the session, Louisville Democrats opposed various measures they said stripped away Louisville’s local control, or its autonomy to make policy decisions for itself.

One such bill, passed into law over Beshear’s veto, will make local Louisville races nonpartisan. Another establishes a task force to look into, among other things, the potential restructuring or division of Jefferson County Public Schools.

An early session bill banning local ordinances that prohibit landlords from discriminating based on source of income also became law. At the time, Louisville was the only Kentucky city with such an ordinance in effect.

Finally, another bill prevents Louisville’s independent air pollution authority from issuing certain fines.

“Republicans claim to be all about local control, but only if it fits their agenda and only when it is in their backyard,” Neal said at a presser following the session’s end. “This strategy to compromise Louisville is unconscionable, and we’re going to fight back.”