14 hours of closed-door budget negotiations yields an agreement (on most everything)
03/30/2014 05:08 AM
Weary legislators finally emerged just before 5:30 a.m. Sunday from a committee room to announce a deal on the state’s two-year budget deal after more than 14 hours in a closed-door session.
Negotiators found common ground for funding levels for most of the programs over which the Senate and House versions disagreed. For instance, the compromise restores part of the cuts to universities’ operating funding while allowing them to build top-priority projects on their campuses. (The Senate and House versions had taken an either-or approach).
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the compromise version of the budget should be ready for final approval of the General Assembly sometime Monday. And the leaders said they plan to adjourn Monday night to start a more than two week recess for the governor to consider vetoes.
Still left undone Sunday morning was an agreement on whether to alter the gas tax, which has dropped 1.5 cents since December and is slated to drop another .7 cents per gallon April 1. That would reduce the amount of money available for road construction. Legislative leaders also have yet to sign off of list of road projects. They are returning later Sunday to hash that out.
The budget compromise does include funding for cancer screening programs and an indigent health care program in Louisville. That was a point of debate when Senate Republicans suggested those programs would be superfluous if the Affordable Care Act is successful in covering low-income Kentuckians.
“We have reached a fiscally responsible budget, one that has significantly invested in education and recognizes the realities of our environment and circumstances,” Stivers told the six reporters from the Frankfort press corps who monitored the negotiations.
And throughout Saturday, one of the biggest budget subplots was the Rupp Arena renovation project. Was the $65 million in bonds for the $310 million in or out? Ultimately, the negotiators replaced the sale of those bonds for a “path forward.”
In a detailed briefing to reporters after emerging from the negotiations, Stumbo and Stivers each said the city and University of Kentucky would have to take steps to show a concrete financing plan before the state would sign off on funds, which Stivers said would be for programming, planning and design.
“It’s something we’re supportive of. But we think there needs to be a little bit better planning, a little bit better information,” Stivers said.
Stumbo said it shouldn’t derail the renovations even after Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told the negotiators Saturday afternoon that taking out the $65 million in bonds would be “a stake in the heart of the project.”
“If they accomplish what the General Assembly would want them to do, then the path will be clear for them,” Stumbo said.
Here’s how they explain it.
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