House, Senate leaders say budget compromise likely

Special session to consider compromise

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMay 19, 2010 

FRANKFORT — House and Senate leaders say there is enough support in both chambers to pass a proposed state budget compromise unveiled by Gov. Steve Beshear last week.

A special legislative session on the budget is scheduled to begin Monday.

After weeks of haggling, the House and Senate could not come to an agreement on a budget compromise before the legislature adjourned on April 15.

Senate President David Williams said Tuesday that the Republican-controlled Senate can support Beshear's $17.1 billion two-year proposed budget, which includes 3.5 percent cuts in the first year and 4.5 percent cuts in the second year.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said some concerns still need to be worked out, but he said he thought the Democratic-controlled House could support most of what Beshear unveiled last week as a compromise budget.

That plan includes less severe cuts to key areas of the budget, including K-12 education, higher education, Medicaid, state police and prosecutors and public defenders. The proposal would not cut the main funding formula for schools, but it would have school districts pick up the cost of one school day.

Beshear's proposal included the Senate's cuts but did not include construction projects sought by the House, with the exception of about $5.6 million to replace the state's worst school buildings, commonly called Category 5 schools.

Stumbo said Tuesday that some members have expressed concerns about changes to the state employee health insurance plan. Both House and Senate had proposed changes to the state health care plan as a way to save the state money.

Stumbo said House Democrats have been working to alleviate some House members' concerns about those changes. The changes include making the basic health insurance plan more attractive by making the optimum plans more expensive.

Stumbo said concerns about changes to state health insurance would not derail passage of the budget.

Beshear has warned that if legislators do not pass a budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1, a partial shutdown of state government is likely.

Also left undone before the legislature adjourned in April was the state's two-year and six-year road plans.

Williams said the two sides were still far apart on how those projects in the two-year road plan should be paid for, and Stumbo said he wasn't sure whether it's possible to work out those disagreements during the special session.

Williams charges that the House's road plan overestimated costs of certain road projects to save more money for projects in House districts.

Stumbo said House members were concerned about a $300 million bond to pay for road projects in the two-year plan. If there was not going to be any new debt, then there should be no debt even for road projects, Stumbo said.

Stumbo and Williams said the legislative branch would pick up the tab for the special legislative session, which will cost more than $63,000 a day and will last a minimum of five days. Both also have said they would support allowing legislators to donate or not take their pay for the session.

Only Beshear can call a special legislative session and decide what issues legislators will tackle. He has not yet issued the call or agenda for the special session, but he has said he has not ruled out adding other issues to the agenda.

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