Kentucky Senate approves two-year budget; next, negotiations with House

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comjbrammer@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2012 

Kentucky Budget

Kentucky Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, left, talked with Sen. Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, during Thursday's session. Leeper, who heads the chamber's budget committee, briefed his colleagues behind closed doors before bringing the budget to the floor for a vote.

JOHN FLAVELL — AP

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Senate approved an $18.5 billion, two-year budget Thursday night that includes little money for capital projects, eliminating $3.5 million each for the Kentucky Horse Park and a downtown Lexington redesign project that includes Rupp Arena.

The Senate voted 32-4 to approve House Bill 465. The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee passed the measure an hour before it was sent to the full Senate.

Now the House, controlled by Democrats, and the Republican-controlled Senate will appoint a committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he was told late Thursday that the House would begin negotiations Monday. Williams said he would not speculate why the House wanted to wait until after the weekend. The University of Kentucky plays in the NCAA tournament on Friday in Atlanta.

Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, said the House was going to work Friday but did not want to go into budget negotiations without knowing what the Senate had changed. The Senate passed the budget after the House had adjourned for the day.

"We want an opportunity to look at it first," Wilkerson said.

The Senate budget decreases overall new borrowing to $391.3 million, $161.2 million less than in the House budget. The Senate version also asks Gov. Steve Beshear to cut more than $98 million in private contracts.

The Senate budget did not make additional cuts to K-12 education or to higher education. But the Senate version does not fund an expansion of preschool that Beshear had proposed in his budget. The Senate budget included an additional $21 million to hire 300 more social workers and an additional $1 million for a colon cancer screening program, said Sen. Robert Leeper, I-Paducah, chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

The Senate version also did not include additional money for a new scholarship program for Eastern Kentucky students, a major initiative pushed by Stumbo this session. Stumbo originally proposed adding the University of Pikeville to the state university system using coal severance dollars, but that idea met resistance from some judge-executives in coal-producing counties. As a compromise, Stumbo proposed using coal severance money — a tax on coal — to fund a scholarship program encouraging more students in Eastern Kentucky to attend college.

Williams said he backed the college scholarship proposal but other members of the Senate did not. Williams said he hoped that issue could be resolved in conference committee.

The House version of the budget included $3.5 million to help the Kentucky Horse Park erase a $3.6 million deficit. The Senate version did not include that money but did allow the Horse Park access to $575,000 each year in the two-year budget in additional maintenance money.

The House also had included $3.5 million in bonds for planning money for redesigning Rupp Arena and the surrounding area in downtown Lexington. The Senate version did not include that money.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said late Thursday that he would continue to push for additional funds for the downtown redesign, adding it was a key economic development project for all of Kentucky.

"This is another step in the budget process. We'll continue to work with the Senate and the House to keep pushing — pushing with all we've got — for the Rupp district," Gray said. "This essential seed money will allow an exciting project to take root and grow through a public-private partnership."

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, said it might be difficult for Leeper to explain why the Senate budget included $3.5 million during the next fiscal year for the Kentucky Center for the Arts' "green roof" program and no money for Rupp Arena. The Kentucky Center for the Arts is in Louisville.

Leeper said bond money for the "green roof" comes from a previously approved bond pool.

Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she was disappointed that the Senate budget contained no funding for the downtown Lexington project.

"It looks like Fayette and Jefferson counties were treated roughly in this budget. I wonder why that is?" Stein said in an apparent reference to last year's gubernatorial election, in which Williams lost to Beshear. Beshear trounced Williams in Fayette and Jefferson counties.

But Williams said there was very little money for any new capital projects this year. He also said the removal of a $2,500 monthly living allowance for Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson was not political. The lieutenant governor does not have a residence in Frankfort. The former mayor of Louisville drives to Frankfort from Louisville every day.

"The most immediate past lieutenant governor (Dan Mongiardo) lived in Perry County, and it was necessary for him to have housing up here," Williams said. "We're not aware that he has $2,500 worth of housing."

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com. Jack Brammer: (859) 231-1302.

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