State legislature's budget talks to resume Saturday

jcheves@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2014 

FRANKFORT — House and Senate leaders talked Friday night about their differences in the proposed $20.3 billion, two-year state budget, but they couldn't agree on anything other than returning Saturday morning to talk some more.

Still, there is reason to believe the legislature's budget conference committee will hammer out a compromise on Saturday, lawmakers said. They said they must produce a budget by late Saturday if they plan to vote on it Monday and have enough time to override any vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear.

"We're talking, we're moving forward," said Senate budget chairman Bob Leeper, a Paducah independent, as the committee quit around 9 p.m.

"No decisions have been made tonight," said House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford. "We just decided at this late hour that it's better to come back fresh tomorrow and start again."

A big difference between the two chambers is the amount of debt that would be incurred by the Democratic-led House for various projects, including renovation of Rupp Arena in Lexington and several buildings on the University of Kentucky campus.

The House also wants an increase in the state gas tax to raise more money for roads. The Republican-led Senate wants less debt and fewer projects.

Friday's first conference committee discussion ended abruptly around noon when Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, and Leeper got into a heated discussion about funding for cancer screening programs.

Senators asked how much the federal Affordable Care Act will pay for cancer screenings, but House members said it is too early to end state funding for screenings since only about half of the roughly 600,000 uninsured Kentuckians have signed up for insurance through the state health-insurance exchange.

After Leeper explained the Senate position, Clark said, "I have a heart." Senate leaders bristled and complained that Clark was implying that Leeper was heartless. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, later told the Senate GOP caucus about the remark and accused the House of delaying tactics in budget negotiations.

The legislature is scheduled to meet Monday and then take a two-week break, returning April 14 and 15 to consider any vetoes by Beshear.

By law, the 2014 session must end April 15.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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