Special session again? Senate says it will gavel in tomorrow and end 30-day legislative session

03/08/2011 04:00 PM

Republican Senate President David Williams said late Tuesday that he will gavel the Senate into session Wednesday morning, and efffectively end the 30 day legislative session without a fix for the shortfall in the Medicaid program for this fiscal year.

Senate and House leaders have been negotiating over the last two days, but Tuesday night they were still too far apart to agree on how to fix the shortall, making a special session possible.

However, Gov. Steve Beshear said at a news conference Tuesday evening that he wouldn’t call a special session and, instead, would deal with the Medicaid budget administratively. But that could lead to cuts to reimbursement rates for doctors, putting funding for rural hospitals at risk.

Williams suggested early Tuesday that the General Assembly might have to return for a special session after two more rounds of back-and-forth negotiations yielded nothing. Then Tuesday night, Williams delivered the news to reporters that the Senate would end the session without a deal.

And while House Democrats want to continue to negotiate during the next two weeks while the legislature is on a recess, Williams said he doesn’t want to go along with that. That’s because passing something on the 30th and final legislative day after that recess would allow Beshear to have the last say with his veto pen.

A free conference committee of 22 Senate and House leaders have been negotiating since Friday over the best way to plug a $100 million shortfall in the Medicaid program that provides health care to Kentucky’s poor and disabled.

It is not a struggle over financial figures as much as it is a philosophical and political battle.

The dividing line is how much faith lawmakers have in Beshear’s administration to make Medicaid more efficient.

Senate Republicans, led by Williams, say they have little faith.

So they have been pushing to cut government across the board. And if Beshear’s administration does achieve savings next year to make up for money moved to fill in the gap in this year’s Medicaid budget, then the money cut from the agencies —including schools — will be returned, under the Senate’s proposal.

House Democrats and House Republicans, however, are unified in their opposition to the education cuts.

And House Democrats say they believe lawmakers can find enough savings to give Beshear some cushion next year without taking money away from schools now.

House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover also clarified his statement he made on Friday expressing opposition to the Senate’s plan for allowing cuts to K-12 and universities.

Hoover said while his GOP caucus still opposes that approach, the Republican lawmakers also are skeptical that Beshear’s administration can save enough money through efficiencies next year to make up for moving at least $100 million forward to the current year budget.

Politically, this squabble has allowed Williams to highlight an issue that could be helpful to him in the governor’s race if he is the Republican nominee.

The Senate’s plan includes cuts to government — but would make furloughs of state workers a last resort.

Perhaps seeing some vulnerability in a usually reliable Democratic bloc of state workers, Williams has highlighted how Beshear used those forced days off without pay for most of the 30,000 state workers this year.

The House and Senate failed to agree on a state budget before the end of last year’s 60-day legislative session. That forced Beshear to call a special session in May for lawmakers to approve the $17 billion two-year state spending plan.

The Medicaid budget, however, was a bit off because lawmakers and Beshear assumed in May that Congress would send $231 million worth of extra Medicaid funding to Kentucky. The actual amount that Congress approved in August fell short of that, creating a $100 million hole in this year’s budget that ends June 30.

- Written by Ryan Alessi with reporting from Frankfort by Kenny Colston and Don Weber. Video produced by Don Weber.


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