Senate and House leaders gear up for budget negotiations in different ways

03/25/2014 09:28 PM

Senate Republican leaders wanted to start the conference committee over the state budget Tuesday evening. But House Democrats had plans.

Democratic leaders had a scheduled meeting with Gov. Steve Beshear Tuesday night. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said it would be a chance to go over, in detail, the changes between the two chambers’ versions of the $20 billion two-year spending plan. Stumbo said it was less a strategy session than it was a general briefing.

“I don’t see them being that far apart except for maybe the bonding issue,” Stumbo said of the Senate and House versions of the budget.

Indeed, House and Senate leaders expect to haggle over which, if any, building projects that the Senate took out should go back in.

And the list of road projects should be another source of bartering. The Senate is expected to take up the road plan Wednesday. But the list of projects should be shorter than what the House put in because the Senate did not approve an increase to the gas tax Tuesday as part of the revenue bill.

The Senate passed a tax measure that includes no increase in the gas tax. The House had set a gas tax rate at 2013-levels. That would be 1.5 cents higher than the current 24.5 cents per gallon. And that rate is expected to drop another .7 cents after April 1 because of a drop in the wholesale price of gas.

Senate President Robert Stivers said Tuesday the Kentuckians are in no mood to approve of any tax increase.

Not approving the bump in gas tax would cost $46 million in revenue to the road fund in the 2014-15 fiscal year and about $60 million in 2015-16, according to projections.

Beyond road and building projects, it’s more of a matter of moving money around. House Democrats expressed concern Tuesday that the Senate version of the budget reduced the amount the House put in to pay daycare stipends for low income Kentuckians to cover child care costs.

And the Senate budget reduced funding for a program that allows ill or disabled adults to be cared for at home as opposed to in instituions.

Stivers told Pure Politics the Senate version merely reduced funding for that to the levels that Beshear recommended.

But Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown and chairman of the House budget subcommittee for health and human services, said that program already has sustained multiple budget cuts and needs more funding. Here’s why:

Meanwhile, it’s unlikely the conference committee will shift coal severance tax money back from counties to the state agency that regulates mines and mine safety.

Stivers defended the cut of coal severance tax funds to the state’s Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. The agency said the cuts would force it to reduce its staff from 145 to 85.

He said as the coal industry constricts, the agency shouldn’t need as much money to regulate it:

The leaders and conferees from both chambers are expected to begin meeting sometime Wednesday to start hashing out the budget, potentially to finish negotiations so the full General Assembly can vote on a final version by Monday.

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