Stumbo: Lawmakers at impasse on road-building plan; special session needed

jbrammer@herald-leader.comApril 14, 2014 

Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo (D) Prestonsburg, listened to debate about the budget bill in the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on March 13, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

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FRANKFORT — House Democrats and Senate Republicans appeared to reach an impasse Monday on a two-year road-building plan for Kentucky, setting up a possible special session that would cost taxpayers about $65,000 a day.

House leaders also decided Monday to let stand all of the vetoes made Friday by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Legislators must wrap up their work for this year's regular 60-workday session by midnight Tuesday. The Kentucky Constitution forbids the session that started Jan. 7 to run past April 15.

Left unfinished Monday night was an agreement between the two chambers on a road plan. Each side pointed fingers at the other for not working hard enough to reach a compromise.

After the House quit for the day around 7 p.m., House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the Senate should be blamed for failing to offer a workable compromise over the weekend on a road plan.

He said the two chambers could not agree on how to split the road fund and how much the road plan should be "over-programmed," or committed to spending more money than is available.

The current Senate road plan calls for spending $3.67 billion on transportation projects for the next two years. The House plan would spend $3.92 billion.

By Monday evening, when the Senate took an extended dinner break to honor its retiring members, the time needed to prepare and print a road plan had slipped away, even if a deal was reached immediately, Stumbo said.

"It's obvious we're not getting a road plan," Stumbo told reporters. "I'm not begrudging them their nice dinner at the country club, but the people's business really ought to come first."

Stumbo predicted the Senate would convene Tuesday and offer a "continuation" plan, essentially continuing funding for the transportation projects already scheduled. If so, the House will reject that proposal and urge Beshear to convene a special session, Stumbo said.

"I think it's clear the Senate doesn't want a road plan, hasn't wanted a road plan all day, and it's likely to necessitate a special session," Stumbo said.

At about 9 last night, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said a compromise road plan might still be possible Tuesday. "Hope springs eternal," he said.

If no agreement can be reached, he said, the state could continue the current road plan and update it when lawmakers return to Frankfort next January for a 30-day session.

Stivers said he saw no need for Beshear to call lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special legislative session if the two chambers do not produce a new road plan.

When reporters asked Beshear early Monday afternoon if he would call a special session to complete the road plan, he responded by saying he was confident lawmakers would approve a plan by Tuesday night.

Stivers also expressed frustration with how House leaders handled negotiations over the weekend. He said House leaders did not inform Senate Transportation Chairman Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, until 9:30 p.m. Saturday by legislative email that they could not agree with the Senate.

"Who checks their legislative email at 9:30 Saturday night?" asked Stivers.

He also said Stumbo's criticism of senators taking a few hours Monday night for a dinner was "laughable." He said House Democrats have wasted much more time this session.

Stivers noted that state Republican and Democratic parties paid for the dinner. No tax dollars were used, he said.

Vetoes

Lawmakers did not deal Monday with the vetoes Beshear issued last Friday, and Stumbo said no action would be taken Tuesday.

Beshear vetoed House Bill 407, a measure pushed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce that deals with private-public partnerships and a prohibition of tolls for the proposed Brent Spence Bridge replacement project between Covington and Cincinnati.

Beshear also vetoed 12 provisions in HB 235, the state's two-year spending plan. One of the provisions vetoed prevented nine of 16 proposed building projects in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Bills approved

Both chambers approved several bills Monday.

The most prominent was Senate Bill 200, which will mean, if Beshear lets it become law as expected, the jailing of fewer Kentucky children for noncriminal offenses, such as missing school and running away.

On a 30-8 vote, the Senate gave final passage to the bill sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville.

The bill would encourage community-based alternatives for children younger than 18 who are charged with "status" offenses. Some judges now sentence such nonviolent offenders to detention centers, where they are jailed with youths who committed serious crimes.

The bill also would require increased data collection on juvenile offenders and a state system to track juvenile recidivism rates.

Westerfield said the bill would benefit young offenders at less cost to taxpayers, possibly saving the state $25 million "over the next few years."

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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