Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin presented his State of the Commonwealth and Budget Address to the legislature last Tuesday, during which he outlined his two-year budget proposal for the state. For months leading up to the budget presentation, the Governor previewed that substantial budget cuts to state agencies and universities should be expected as his administration seeks to address the state’s underfunded pension systems.
The proposed budget includes across-the-board reductions of 6.25% to all state agencies, including higher education, along with the elimination or reduction of 70 state-funded programs. While smaller than anticipated, the implications for WKU include a $4.6 million reduction and elimination of $750,000 in funding to support the Kentucky Mesonet, the statewide weather monitoring network that we operate. The proposal does not include any relief for our growing pension obligation, which for WKU is projected to increase by some $9 million beginning in July.
These potential cuts and payment increases are on top of the $15 million in reductions caused by enrollment shifts and declines in the previous four years we also must address this year. I don’t have to do the math for you to see that our fiscal challenges are substantial.
As we work through the details of the various measures affecting higher education, it’s important to remember that this is the beginning of a long process. We will maintain a constant presence in Frankfort throughout the legislative session, and we will work diligently to improve the outcome for higher education as a whole and WKU specifically.
I will continue to update you on our work in Frankfort as the session unfolds. Pertinent information from our Government Relations staff and regular updates on House and Senate bills of interest to higher education can be found at https://www.wku.edu/govrelations/legislativepriorities.php.