Gov. Bevin, legislative leaders say they're pleased with session's results

04/16/2016 06:00 PM

FRANKFORT — After a blitz of legislative activity by the General Assembly before lawmakers adjourned sine die on Friday, Gov. Matt Bevin offered one tidbit that he learned in his first-ever session.

“It takes a long time to make the sausage,” he said as state representatives filed out of the House of Representatives before midnight. The first-year Republican governor had visited the chamber and shook hands and chatted with a number of lawmakers, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo, as their work concluded.

Friday marked the final day of the 60-day, budget-writing session, and lawmakers delivered to Bevin’s desk a compromised $21.5 billion biennial spending plan that includes some of the governor’s major proposals like a permanent pension fund and a $100 million workforce development bond pool; a two-year highway construction plan that maps out $3.6 billion in state and federal highway projects over the biennium; and revenue bills that fund state government and the Transportation Cabinet.

The General Assembly also on Friday passed legislation outlining the $25 million Work Ready Kentucky scholarship program for all colleges offering two-year degree paths, enacting tougher penalties against synthetic drug trafficking and possession, and allowing the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to increase its hotel tax by 2.5 percent to help finance $60 million in bonds to expand the Lexington Convention Center, among other bills sent to the first floor of the Capitol.

By waiting until the last day to take action on those measures, the legislature will not have an opportunity to override any vetoed bills or line-item vetoes in the budget.

In all, Bevin and legislative leaders said they were pleased with the General Assembly’s output during the 60-day session.

“We have adopted a budget, a budget that basically took the bull by the horns and dealt with one of the most pressing, if not the most pressing fiscal issue in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and that was pensions,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. “We did not kick the issue down the road.”

He also mentioned the legislature’s approval of bills that would allow the expungement of certain low-level felonies, outline road projects over the biennium and authorize public-private partnerships as highlights of the 2016 legislative session.

“Those in and of themselves make this a very successful session,” he said.

Passing a two-year spending plan also topped Stumbo’s list of legislative achievements this session.

“I think most people who look at it will say it’s one of the better budget documents that the House has produced in a number of years,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “It addressed our pension problem, did make some cuts in higher education but held elementary and secondary education harmless, did some things like the work-ready program, the dual-credit program, performance-based funding for universities, so it moved us forward, I think, in the right direction.”

“I think on balance it was a session that everybody can walk out of here and say we did what we came here to do,” he added.

Bevin also singled out the budget when asked his opinion on the session, and he said he had not given much thought to any potential line-item vetoes on the spending plan passed Friday.

“We’ve got 10 days to worry about that,” he said. “I just got it tonight. I’m delighted by it. It’s a great budget, it truly is.”

With the dust still settling on the 2016 General Assembly, some eyes have drifted toward the Nov. 8 elections, particularly with Republicans jockeying for control of the House for the first time since 1921.

Democrats entered the session with a 50-46 majority in the chamber and, despite an ominous hint from House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, that “an historic day” loomed in January, they padded their lead to 53-47 after taking three of four special elections March 8.

Ninety-one House districts will be in play this cycle, and Stumbo said he hopes to fend off a GOP takeover and hold the speaker’s gavel again next year.

“I like my team and I like my chances, and if the good Lord’s willing, the creek don’t rise, I hope I’ll be here,” he said.

This session’s results will help, particularly the negotiated budget, he said.

“Our members who face re-election can say to voters, ‘Well we did what we were supposed to do. We reached across the aisle,’” Stumbo said. “What voters really want us to do is come up here and do our jobs and work with everybody, and the partisan gets lost on the people in the middle.”

Entrepreneur program, campaign contribution bills die on final day

A late timing snafu doomed legislation that would have established the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs Program in the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, which would have set up a summer learning program to develop the next generation of business and economic leaders in Kentucky.

Senate Bill 296 passed both chambers without a vote in opposition, with the Senate vote occurring at 10:54 p.m.

By the time SB 296 was signed by Stivers, sent to Bevin for his signature and returned to the House for Stumbo’s signature, the chamber had adjourned and the clock struck midnight. Enrolled bills are typically signed by both legislative leaders before heading to the governor.

“We’ve already adjourned,” Stumbo told Robert Jenkins, the Legislative Research Commission’s deputy director for committee and staff coordination who delivered SB 296 to the House.

Another bill, House Bill 147, would have doubled contribution limits to political candidates from $1,000 to $2,000 per election and to political parties from $2,500 to $5,000 per year.

Stivers said the Senate did not consider HB 147 after it was amended in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Friday because of ongoing federal litigation.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, filed a suit that seeks to overturn the state’s campaign contribution limits in September.

“So as a precautionary measure, we decided not to take the bill up and create any more litigation surrounding that issue,” Stivers said.

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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