Childcare stipend, Rupp Arena project could prove to be key negotation points on budget changes

03/24/2014 08:56 PM

With some key changes from what the governor and House Democrats proposed in the budget, the forthcoming negotiations will likely revolve around projects vs. operations funding for universities and whether Rupp Arena renovations go in or rim out.

The Senate on Monday approved its version of the $20-billion two-year state budget 25-2 with most Senate Democrats passing because of lack of time to review it. The Senate delivered the reworked budget within nine days after the House took nearly seven weeks with it. Now the goal is for House and Senate leaders to negotiate a compromise before April 2 so they can come back to consider overriding any of the governor’s vetoes on April 15.

Another area where there will be negotiations is funding for childcare stipends. The governor last year cut back the program that provides low-income parents with financial help to cover daycare costs while they work. But Beshear and the House approved $57 million a year to restore those cuts. The Senate didn’t agree to that level.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told Pure Politics that he was “surprised” the Senate reduced the restoration of funding for child care stipends to help low income families; something both Gov. Steve Beshear and House lawmakers included in their budgets.

“We’re not making moves which would change the trajectory from failure to success,” said Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, on the childcare funding being dropped from the budget.

“Taking money out at his crucial time is not reasonable, acceptable or wise – in my opinion,” he said.

The Kentucky Youth Advocates, who have been leading the charge to restore the cuts, issued a statement thanking the Senate for at least bumping up the funding amount for the childcare stipends from their 2013 levels. But the group called for more money when Senate and House negotiators hammer out a compromise later this week.

“The cuts are hurting Kentucky families, and full restoration in the state budget needs to be a priority,” the group’s statement said. “The budget passed by the Senate does not include full restoration of the Child Care Assistance Program. We ask our Senators and Representatives to ensure full restoration for families earning up to 150 percent of the poverty line in the final two-year budget.”

Budget OT for Rupp

The fate of Rupp Arena’s renovations will be decided in the conference committee, the equivalent of legislative overtime for the House and Senate to work out their differences.

The Senate stripped out funding for the project, but Stumbo said that was “ill advised.”

Mayor of Lexington Jim Gray said he was “unshakably optimistic,” even though funding had just been dropped for the project.

Gray expects that funding will be restored in a conference committee and made a pitch for the job growth and economic development an updated Rupp Arena would bring.

Mine Safety at issue

While Eastern Kentucky lawmakers liked that the Senate version of the budget diverts more coal severance tax money back to the counties for projects and programs, at least one state agency warned against it.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet issued a statement saying the change would compromise mine inspections and, thus, safety because the measure cuts in half funding the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing would get from coal severance tax.

The agency says it would have to cut employees, reducing its staff from 145 to 85 full-time workers.

“Overall, this will significantly hurt our coal industry in Kentucky,” the agency’s statement said. “The General Assembly, following the Darby Mine disaster, wisely increased funding for mine safety and safety training so that this would not occur in Kentucky mines. The rate of injuries and fatalities in Kentucky mines has been decreasing since that time. With the passage of the Senate version of the House budget plan, every miner in Kentucky will be put at great risk every time they enter a mine.”

Next steps

A conference committee has not yet been officially named. But both Stivers and Stumbo said they expected to meet for the first time on Tuesday afternoon. Both hoped to reach an agreement within the next few days.

With the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky playing one another in the sweet sixteen in Indianapolis, lawmakers may be checking their watches more than normal to finish the process before Friday evening.

In a statement, Beshear said there were obvious “significant” differences in the proposed plans, but said this was just a step in the process of developing the budget.

“The House, Senate and I will be revisiting all budget issues over the coming days, and I expect we will come to an agreement before the end of the session,” Beshear said.


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