FRANKFORT - Gov. Steve Beshear said Friday that he vetoed language in the state budget bill that threatened to scale back an ambitious round of construction projects at community and technical college campuses in Kentucky.
Beshear said his action would guarantee that capital projects move ahead at all 16 colleges in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, also known by its initials, KCTCS.
The Democratic governor used his line-item veto authority on other pieces of the $20.3 billion, two-year state budget passed recently by the General Assembly. Lawmakers can consider overriding Beshear's vetoes during their two-day wrap-up session that starts Monday.
Beshear praised lawmakers for other education-related parts of the state spending plan for the two years starting July 1.
He said the budget will raise per-pupil spending to its highest level ever, give teachers and other school employees pay raises and increase the number of 4-year-olds in preschool. It also provides additional funding for school technology, textbooks, school safety and bonding for school construction, he said.
But he objected to the language that he said would have limited the community and technical college system's ability to proceed with needed construction projects. He said the provision he vetoed would have prevented nine of the 16 projects from being built.
Beshear has said the expansion projects, backed by $145.5 million in agency bonds, represent the single-largest investment in the KCTCS system since its formation. The bonds would support one project at each of the system's colleges.
The two-year system has grown to about 100,000 students at its 16 regional colleges and 73 campuses, he said.
"In many ways, these campuses are factories that build Kentucky's workforce, and they are long overdue for expansions, upgrades and improvements to enhance the learning environment," Beshear said. "We have worked directly with KCTCS leaders to ensure that these projects are fiscally responsible and will directly benefit students. I'm proud to save these projects."
Agency bonds would fund up to 75 percent of the projects' costs. The remaining costs would be covered by local communities where projects occur, as well as other public or private sources, bringing the total amount to almost $200 million.
Students at the two-year schools would pay a fee of up to $8 per credit hour to help finance the construction work.
The budget plan passed by lawmakers included a provision that would have allowed the board of each two-year college to decide whether to impose the student fee. With his veto, Beshear cleared the way for a blanket student fee across the KCTCS system.
Critics said many of those students would never benefit from the projects.
"There will be individuals on campuses that will never get access to these buildings that will be paying a fee to get those buildings built," Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Friday. "I just don't think it's going to be real popular among people who have a fee assessed on them on something they won't get the opportunity to use."
Beshear said there are other examples of similar fees being assessed for construction projects.
"Other Kentucky public postsecondary-education institutions impose similar facility-related fees on their students at satellite campuses, which are used for facilities on the main campuses," he said.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Democrats in charge of the House will discuss the governor's vetoes when they return to the Capitol on Monday.
Meanwhile, Beshear left alone another provision in the budget bill that prevents the use of state General Fund dollars to help support the state's health benefit exchange, which signs up Kentuckians for health coverage as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.