Republicans have complete control of negotiations to finalize Kentucky’s next two-year state budget for the first time in modern history, but that doesn’t necessarily mean smooth sailing for the budget talks that started Friday.
The Senate and House have major differences in their proposals for how the state should spend about $22 billion over the next two years.
Those differences include the Senate’s rejection of a House plan to generate about $500 million from taxes on cigarettes and opioids, and the Senate’s decision to allocate $1.1 billion less than the House to the Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky.
“This is an unchartered territory,” Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said before negotiations started. “Democrats are not in control of either chamber.”
Republicans took control of the House for the first time since 1921 following the November 2016 elections. The GOP took over the Kentucky Senate for the first time in 2000, according to Legislative Research Commission records that go back to 1908.
Jones and a few other leading Democrats have a seat at the negotiating table, but they are far outnumbered by Republicans.
Several teachers greeted the conferees Friday morning as they entered their negotiation room in the Capitol Annex, where teachers have been protesting for weeks over proposed cuts to their pension benefits.
The negotiations began about 9:10 a.m. with a reading of the dozens of budget differences between the chambers. The talks lasted until about 5 p.m. and are scheduled to resume 10 a.m. Monday.
“We’re further in the process, earlier in the process than we’ve ever been,” said Senate budget committee Chairman Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill.
McDaniel also said major differences between the House and Senate “remain on the table.”
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said this year’s negotiations are going smoothly compared to those in past legislative sessions.
House budget committee Chairman Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, said he thinks the committee should discuss the tax bill before tackling bills that contain budgets of the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, R-Sandy Hook, said he hopes the House will “stand up” for the money it raised for education programs through the tax plan.
He said the “significant” differences between the House and Senate focus on education funding, teachers’ retirement funding, and language that makes it easier to layoff state workers.
The full House and Senate are scheduled to gavel back in Tuesday and Wednesday, when they hope to approve the budget before adjourning until April 12 to give Gov. Matt Bevin, also a Republican, time to veto any legislation he finds objectionable.
Lawmakers can then attempt to override any vetoes and pass additional legislation on April 12 and 13, the final day of this year’s law-making session.