The Kentucky budget process begins with the Governor presenting his budget to the General Assembly during the second week of the legislative session. From there, the House crafts its own document, informed by several weeks of both public, subcommittee hearings and private meetings with stakeholders. The Senate replicates that process once they receive the budget from the House, and the differences between the House and Senate versions are ironed out in a behind-closed-doors free conference committee in the waning days of session.
The free conference committee may add completely new items to the budget, as well as eliminate items appearing in prior versions. Conferees are typically limited to high-level staff, members of legislative leadership, and the appropriations chairmen, making it critical to inform and build champions in the leadup to the negotiations. They work late hours and often make decisions against hard deadlines and tight budgets. MML&K fully engages on behalf of our clients to best ensure that their issues are kept at the forefront during the stressful final hours of these negotiations. We position our clients for success early on in the process, and we follow through until the process concludes.
Here are some of the successes we fostered during the 2018 budget session:
District Judges for a Better Commonwealth (DJBC)
Judges in Kentucky have not received pay raises in over a decade, despite increasing demands on their time and talents. A flatlined salary was also compounded by a proposal to remove judges from their well-funded pension system and place them into the woefully underfunded state retirement system. Some legislators saw fit not to fund judicial pensions at all during the biennium. To ensure that the best and brightest continue to seek the bench, it was imperative that their compensation package be secure and competitive.
Although District Judges are well respected in their communities and have productive relationships with their legislators, they had not focused their collective energies in a way that led to successful legislative outcomes. They found themselves excluded from the last-minute deals that so often reward those with a constant physical presence in Frankfort. DJBC was borne out of that need, and they retained MML&K’s services as one of their first acts. MML&K operated as their eyes and ears in Frankfort when the judges needed to be in their court rooms. We worked immediately to inventory legislative relationships, hone messaging about where DJBC’s policy requests fit within the current political landscape, and build a strategy to move towards the ultimate success of both of their goals. Targeted meetings, established lines of communication, and working within a coalition of allied judges and circuit court clerks maximized both the DJBC’s efficiency and effectiveness. The partnership lead to the first pay raise in twelve years, funding the judicial pensions, and maintaining the independence of the judicial retirement system from the state system.
Access to Justice/ Civil Legal Aid
In a session when even long-standing budget items came under fire, the MML&K team partnered with the 4 legal aid directors, the staff of the Access to Justice Commission, and Justices of the Supreme Court to fight an uphill battle in reinstating a budget line item that was removed by both the Governor and the Senate. MML&K spearheaded the team and crafted a strategic plan that built a ground swell of support with media coverage, letters to the editor, social media outreach, direct communication with legislators across the state, and strategic meetings in Frankfort with decisionmakers. Ultimately, funding was restored for Access to Justice in the final budget.