In what he praised as the first major, bipartisan agreement in his new administration, Gov. Matt Bevin announced Monday that a way has been found to provide tuition for about 700 more Kentucky National Guard members to attend college in the upcoming spring semester.
The state-funded tuition assistance program had run out of money, and the Guard last week had to tell 696 of its members that there was no money for spring semester next year.
Bevin, who took office last Tuesday, said at a speech at the Kentucky Chamber’s legislative conference in Lexington that he had talked earlier in the day to university presidents or their liaisons about the problem and a solution was found.
He said the state’s public universities and private colleges had agreed to pick up the tuition cost next spring and they later would be reimbursed either by money from a reallocation of the budget of the state adjutant general or money allocated in the next two-year budget that lawmakers will approve in the 2016 General Assembly session beginning in January.
A pleased Bevin said applications for the program jumped this year with Kentucky Guard members no longer deployed as often to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Guard has said for this fall’s and next spring’s semesters, 2,055 guard members applied for tuition aid, compared to 1,227 the previous year.
Bevin said about $5.3 million had been set aside by the state legislature two years ago for the tuition, but the fund created in 1996 to provide 100 percent of tuition for approved applicants had come up about $1.1 million short.
“I don’t want any of the Guard members to be turned away,” Bevin told reporters after his speech.
He also said the Republican-led Senate and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo signed on to the solution.
“No one person squeaked about this,” said the Republican governor. “It was truly the first great bipartisan effort.”
Guard leaders have said they will ask the 2016 General Assembly to increase funding for the state’s nearly 8,000 Guard members.
On another topic, Bevin was asked by reporters about a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll that showed 72 percent of Kentuckians favor keeping the Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that has provided health coverage to about 425,000 people in the state.
Bevin has said he will limit the expansion by modeling his plan to be similar to Indiana’s. Indiana has obtained a waiver from the federal government to create its own plan.
The new poll will not change anything he plans to do, said Bevin.
On other topics during his talk to nearly 200 Chamber members, Bevin said he wants to end the state’s inventory and “death” taxes, try to initiate tort reform and school choice, make Kentucky a “right-to-work” state, put new state workers into a pension system based on 401(k)-type programs, move to privatization of state parks and work with the SOAR program to aid Eastern Kentucky.
He also said he will “not lead the charge but will not be an obstacle” to efforts to get a constitutional amendment to allow local citizens to vote on the funding of building projects and their costs with an optional sales tax.