Lawmakers to trudge back to Frankfort to finish their work

05/12/2010 07:54 PM

Less than a week after appearing on voters’ primary election ballots, state lawmakers will be called back to Frankfort for a special session to pass the two-year state budget bill that they left unfinished in April when Senate Republicans and House Democratic leaders couldn’t agree.

Gov. Steve Beshear talks to the press

Gov. Steve Beshear, on Wednesday, called the special session for May 24 and said he expects it to last five days — the minimum legislators need to shove a bill through the process. The session would start just six days after the May 18 primary.

“It is their responsibility to get the job done and the citizens of Kentucky will neither forgive, nor forget their failure to do so,” Beshear warned in a Wednesday afternoon press conference announcing the session.

Beshear proposed his own budget bill as a starting point for this next round of negotiations between Senate and House leaders. The $17.1 billion biennial budget is slightly slimmer than the $17.3 billion version debated during the session.

It has fewer projects and, thus, less new debt for the state much to Senate Republicans’ delight. And it trims spending across state government but less so in the areas of education, corrections and health and human services — priorities that the House leaders wanted to protect.

So leaders from both ends of the Capitol’s third floor sounded hopeful about coming to an agreement.

“I don’t see how you can walk away from this budget proposal,” Republican Senate President David Williams told reporters an hour later. “I think this is the sort of budget we can support.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the top-ranking Democrat, issued a statement saying the caucus was supportive of Beshear’s recommendations “especially regarding education and human services.”

But Stumbo said House lawmakers remain “concerned” about the Senate’s approach to the state’s road-funding bill, another piece of related legislation that must be hammered out during the special session. Stumbo claimed the Senate was seeking to over-book the road plan by as much as $2 billion.

Stumbo and Williams are expected to meet Thursday to negotiate.

Beshear said the General Assembly must act on the budget by June 1 or risk losing a chance to save more money by restructuring its debt on bonds.

To help balance the state spending plan in this latest proposal, Beshear took extra money — $50 million instead of $25 million — from an account designated for underground fuel storage cleanup. And because enrollment in Kentucky schools is lower than expected this year, Beshear said the state will save an extra $40 million over the next two years from the state’s school funding formula, which is partially calculated on a per-pupil basis.

- Ryan Alessi


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