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Friday, March 23, 2012

Here We Go -- AGAIN; Special Session Looms Large In Kentucky's Near Future, As The General ASSembly Plays "Patty Cake" With State Budget!

House, Senate leaders clash on start of budget talks
Written by Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT, KY. — House and Senate leaders clashed Friday on when formal talks should begin to resolve differences on the proposed $19.3 billion state budget.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate wanted to begin Friday, saying that time is growing short in the 2012 legislative session. But leaders of the House’s Democratic majority said there’s enough time to resolve their differences if talks begin Monday.

“We’re not going to run out of time this time,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “We’re not that far apart on this thing.”

But Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he was “very concerned” about the House’s decision to go home Friday and begin formal talks Monday.

Williams said he didn’t know how far apart the two sides are “because we haven’t talked to them yet.” And he said that, even if negotiations go smoothly, it takes staff 36 hours to prepare and publish final documents after House and Senate leaders reach a final agreement.

At issue are different versions of House Bill 265, the state’s spending plan for the two-year period that begins July 1. The Senate majority unveiled its version late Thursday in a closed briefing of senators, then zipped it through the budget committee and a quick floor vote.

Stumbo said House members and legislative staff can use the weekend to digest the Senate’s changes. He said he also needed time to get the Beshear budget staff’s analysis of the differences.

Monday will be the 55th day of a legislative session that the state constitution says can last nor more than 60 days and must adjourn by midnight April 15.

The legislature’s current calendar calls for it to meet each day next week, passing the budget no later than Friday, the 59th day. It has set aside the final day for April 12 to consider overriding any vetoes of bills or budget items by Beshear.

Several legislators said differences in the budget are smaller and fewer than in recent budget sessions. Both the House and Senate agreed to Beshear’s proposal to cut most agencies’ spending by 8.4 percent in 2012-13 and then hold to that reduced appropriation in 2013-14.

Neither the House nor Senate changed Beshear’s plan for no raises for state workers or teachers in the next two years.

And the Senate agreed to some significant changes made by the House — such as suspending for two years the 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in benefits for retired state workers and scrapping Beshear’s proposed $451 million in bonds for university projects, to be paid by the schools’ revenues.

But the Senate cut a bit deeper into the amount of new debt permitted in the budget. It also made many relatively small changes such as eliminating a $2,500 monthly housing allowance for Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and rejecting the use of $6 million per year in coal severance tax reveues for scholarships for students in Eastern Kentucky coal counties.

Stumbo said Friday he can accept the elimination of the housing allowance. But he said of the Senate’s deletion of the coal county scholarships: “They (the Senate) took some money that they thought was important to some of us. That’s just a negotiating point.”

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