Budget talks set to continue Wednesday as Republicans, Democrats offer counterproposals

03/29/2016 07:22 PM

FRANKFORT — Republicans and Democrats negotiating a $21 billion biennial budget have offered counterproposals on Tuesday in hopes of jump-starting stalled talks between the sides.

The budget conference committee is scheduled to resume its work at 9 a.m. Wednesday, with the legislature set to reconvene at noon Friday.

House Democrats first presented its counteroffer as talks began Tuesday morning. House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said his side was prepared to accept the Senate’s proposed $250 million fund for future pension obligations and side with Gov. Matt Bevin’s call to appropriate $845.5 million into the state’s underfunded pensions. That’s $350 million less than recommended in the Senate’s budget and $277 million less than suggested by the House.

In exchange, Rand said House Democrats wanted K-12 and postsecondary education and constitutional officers spared from 9 percent cuts over the biennium, plus $25.3 million for their Work Ready Kentucky scholarship proposal for free tuition at state community and technical colleges.

The House’s offer does not include the Senate’s proposed $50 million workforce development bond pool, half of the amount requested by Gov. Matt Bevin in his original budget.

“We think that this is a reasonable compromise,” Rand told the budget conference committee. “It gives the governor what he wants, his contributions to the pension systems. It gives him his permanent fund, and it allows us to move education forward in this state.”

Senate Republicans came back with an offer that would not exempt higher education from 9 percent spending reductions but would halve those recommended for constitutional offices. The Senate’s pension funding would be scaled back by $70 million and proposed cuts to Learning and Results Services in the Department of Education would be eliminated.

The House’s Work Ready Kentucky scholarship program was nixed from the Senate’s counteroffer.

“If you value the public employees of this state, you’ve got to recognize that your proposal took $350 million out of the pensions,” said Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel.

“We met you part of the way there. … We do value those employees greatly because they are the ones, they are the teachers, they are the state employees who will have to make whatever we decide here work, and we came back in good faith and certainly the ball’s in your court. We look forward to seeing what you guys come up with.”

Senate GOP leadership’s decision against budging on higher education cuts drew rebukes from Democrats like House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

“We had told you our primary goal was to restore the cuts to our educational system and to do the program for free tuition, and you haven’t come to that point yet on that balance,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “If we’re going to give $250 million to the governor, we’re asking for a whole lot less as a compromise in return.”

Both counters would direct about $37 million to the judicial branch’s two-year spending plan.

Tuesday’s budget talks were preceded by a press conference involving Bevin and Republican leaders in the General Assembly, urging Stumbo and Democrats to come to the negotiating table ready to craft a two-year spending plan.

“There has been only one party that has said we may walk out of here without a budget,” Bevin said outside his Capitol office. “That is the one party not standing before you today. That is unacceptable. That is a weak way out. That is what happens when people are unwilling to do the job they were elected to do.”

The first-year governor disputed Stumbo’s comments that the two had only met once before four special House elections earlier this month, saying they met for more than half an hour without staffers “talking about this budget.”

“The bottom line is he has my number, I have his,” Bevin said. “He knows how to reach me. I know how to reach him. We’ve spoken. He knows that. He’s playing you. He’s playing you. Don’t be played.”

Stumbo, however, reiterated that he had only met once.

“He called me to come to his office and he wanted to talk about how he was going to win the special elections,” Stumbo said. “Now that’s the truth. If he wants to take a lie-detector test on it, we can do that. The governor has a convenient memory, you have to remember sometimes. He doesn’t remember everything he said or at least be doesn’t care what he said.”

In his attempt to twist Stumbo’s arm on budget negotiations and continuing a Republican narrative that House Democrats delayed work on the spending plan, Bevin misspoke on exactly how early budgets have been passed and signed into law in recent sessions.

Bevin said budgets have been signed by March 11, on average, in recent legislative sessions.

But that would be weeks before the budget-writing sessions’ veto breaks, during which governors can issue line-item vetoes on budgets before signing the documents or letting them become law without a signature, according to past calendars for the 2012 and 2014 sessions.

“If you go back in recent years, the average date upon which a budget was signed — not delivered or entered into discussion but signed — the average date was March 11,” he said at the Capitol news conference. “We did not even have anything to negotiate on, react to, respond to or look at from the House until after that date.”

Legislative records dating back to 2006 show that the earliest budget was passed by the General Assembly on March 30, 2014, with then-Gov. Steve Beshear issuing line-item vetoes on the document April 11.

The House passed its version of House Bill 303 on a 53-0 vote March 16. The Senate then voted out its version of HB 303 on a 27-2 vote with nine “pass” votes a week later.

Bevin’s office did not respond to a request for comment or a question on how the governor arrived at the March 11 date.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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