Lawmakers have a day to find devils in budget details

05/25/2010 08:09 AM

Democrats and Republicans on the House appropriations and revenue committee will have to comb through a several-inch thick state budget document in a matter of hours on Tuesday before voting on whether to send it to the House floor.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, left, talks with Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, and John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty

“That’s the part that scares me,” Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, told cn|2 Politics. “I’d rather know what’s in it than have (the press) call me and say, hey what’s this on page 463.”

Farmer sent a note to the House Republican leader, Rep. Jeff Hoover of Jamestown, earlier this month asking him to urge the House Democratic majority leaders to allow all lawmakers more time to review the budget bill before votes. After all, lawmakers have been working on the budget since February, should have passed one by the end of the regular session April 15 and have been working on a compromise version over the last few weeks.

As of late Monday, however, even members of the House Democratic majority only had been briefed on the highlights and hadn’t seen the details. The full 100-member House must vote on the budget by Wednesday in order for the General Assembly to wrap-up this special session in a minimum of five days.

Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond and the former budget committee chairman, said he has assumed the proposal House leaders will unveil is similar to a version Gov. Steve Beshear announced to the press on May 12 — one that spares some agencies from 4.5 percent cuts, such as corrections and Medicaid.

Moberly, who as budget chairman often had to explain the details of proposed spending plans to his colleagues hours before a vote because the ink still was drying on the bill, said he “probably” will vote for the legislation.

“We have to have a budget, but I’d like to hear the details before I see the final judgment on how I would vote,” he said.

Specifically, he said he’s concerned about the proposal in Beshear’s suggested budget that keeps the two extra school days the House’s original plan announced in March would have cut. One of those days will be paid for through state funds. School districts must pick up the tab of the second day.

“I don’t like that,” Moberly said. “I don’t thik the districts can afford that, and I think that’s just going to cause more pink slips” in school districts.

It’s an unfunded mandate, said Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville.

“That’s a huge concern to a lot of people I’ve talked to,” Harmon said.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said he’s most interested in seeing the provisions regarding state employees and language that would allow the governor to furlough state employees — mandated unpaid leave — to save money. He said he hopes higher-paid political appointees will be first to be furloughed.

“And I want to make sure furloughs are the last alternative the governor has to take before layoffs,” he said. “We don’t want layoffs to occur, period. And furloughs should be the last resort.”

Rep. Jamie Comer, R-Tompkinsville, said based on a summary lawmakers received of what Beshear proposed this month, he thinks it’s in line with what Republican lawmakers wanted to see earlier this year. Chief among those priorities in this political year of anti-debt sentiment among voters was including fewer construction projects and, thus, less bonding that would  increase the amount Kentucky would borrow.

“I want to see the level of debt and whether K-12 is spared any unnecessary cuts,” Comer said.

Comer, a member of the appropriations and revenue committee, will be among the first group of lawmakers to find out as they receive their briefing and the bill at Tuesday’s 10 a.m. committee meeting.

- Ryan Alessi


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