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Democratic mayor joins Kentucky GOP lawmakers to celebrate state funding for Louisville

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The amount of state funding headed to Kentucky’s largest city to support downtown renewal, education, health care and other priorities shows that the days of talking about an urban-rural divide in the Bluegrass State are “now behind us,” Louisville’s mayor said Monday.

The new two-year state budget passed by the Republican-dominated legislature will pump more than $1 billion into Louisville, reflecting the city’s role as an economic catalyst that benefits the entire state, lawmakers said.

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Republican legislators and Louisville’s first-term Democratic mayor, Craig Greenberg, spoke of the collaboration they achieved during the 60-day legislative session that ended two weeks ago.

“For far too long, folks have talked about this urban-rural divide that has divided Louisville and the rest of the state,” Greenberg said at a news conference attended by a number of lawmakers in downtown Louisville. “Well those days are now behind us.”

“We may not agree on every issue,” he said. “What we have shown this session is that’s OK. There is so much common ground. There is so much that we do agree on.”

There was no mention of divisive issues — past and present — that prompted some Democratic lawmakers and others to proclaim that the predominantly rural GOP legislature was waging a “war on Louisville.” During the just-ended session, Republican lawmakers enacted a measure to make mayoral elections nonpartisan in Louisville, the state’s most Democratic city. And lawmakers undid efforts in Louisville and Lexington to ban landlords from discriminating against renters who use federal housing vouchers.

A cyclist rides a bike in view of the Louisville, Ky., skyline, June 7, 2016, in Louisville. The amount of state funding headed to Kentucky’s largest city to support downtown renewal, education, health care and other priorities shows that the days of talking about an urban-rural divide in the Bluegrass State are “now behind us,” Louisville’s mayor said Monday, April 29, 2024.  (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Perhaps the most explosive issue is still pending. Lawmakers agreed to create a task force to review the public school system that encompasses Louisville. The review could potentially lead to efforts next year to split up Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest school system.

Sen. Gerald Neal, the state Senate’s top-ranking Democrat, noted at Monday’s event that there remain “some unanswered questions” regarding the legislature’s relationship with Louisville. But Neal praised his colleagues for approving the funding for his hometown, referring to the $100 million over two years for downtown Louisville as a “home run.”

Other projects winning legislative funding will make improvements at Louisville’s airport, support a community center for teens and adults with disabilities, build on the Louisville Orchestra’s statewide presence and support the Kentucky Exposition Center, which hosts trade shows throughout the year.

University of Louisville President Kim Schatzel said the session produced historic levels of funding for the school. The budget supports development of a new health sciences building in downtown Louisville that will produce more health professionals and advance cutting-edge research, she said.

The state also will help develop a cybersecurity center at UofL that will put the city and state “on the map as a national leader in this emerging and incredibly important technology field,” Schatzel said.

“Construction and cranes on campus, well, they warm a president’s heart like nothing else, as they signal confidence in a very bright future for the university and the communities that we serve,” she said.

Lawmakers passed a more than $128 billion main budget for the state executive branch over the next two fiscal years. They also approved tapping into the state’s massive budget reserves for nearly $3 billion in spending on one-time investments in infrastructure and community projects.

House Speaker David Osborne said the Louisville investments resulted from disciplined budgeting since the GOP gained House control in 2017, consolidating Republican dominance of the legislature.

For successive budget cycles after that, “this legislative body has spent less money than we have taken in,” the Republican speaker said. “That is not an easy thing to do.”

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Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said that Louisville serves a mission stretching far beyond its boundaries in education, health care, transportation, tourism and the humanities. Stivers, who represents an eastern Kentucky district, said the state’s investments in Louisville were a matter of economics.

“You don’t turn away from 18 to 19% of your population and your revenues that you take in to the state coffers,” he said.



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