FRANKFORT —With time running out on this year's legislative session, Kentucky lawmakers still haven't reached an agreement on balancing the state's Medicaid budget.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters on Friday that passing House Bill 305, which balances the Medicaid budget, is the one issue that must be rectified before the legislature adjourns. Monday will be the 23rd day of the 30-day legislative session.
"The budget issue is my main concern," Stumbo said. "We have to fix that problem."
So far, only a handful of proposals have cleared both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House. Still on the drawing board are dozens of high-profile bills that would overhaul the state's criminal code, increase the dropout age from 16 to 18, require a prescription for common cold medicines used to make methamphetamine and change the state's immigration laws, among other things.
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In an effort to shore up the state's ballooning Medicaid budget, Gov. Steve Beshear has proposed moving approximately $166 million from next fiscal year to the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Beshear's staff have said they can make up that money in fiscal year 2012 with a host of savings and cost-cutting measures, including launching managed-care Medicaid programs around the state.
The House approved House Bill 305 on Feb. 10.
The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee has had three hearings on HB 305 over the past few weeks. It is scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday.
Members of the Senate have expressed reservations about moving money forward without knowing if the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees the health care program for the poor and disabled, can generate promised savings.
Senate budget committee Chairman Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, said his colleagues are concerned that simply moving money from one fiscal year to the next will create problems in future years. Leeper said he could not say if the Senate would agree to Beshear's proposal or decide to move only a portion of the requested $166 million.
Beshear has warned that if the legislature does not move the money forward, health care providers could receive as much as a 30 percent cut in Medicaid payments.
Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers said Friday there is ample time to resolve the questions surrounding the Medicaid budget.
"We've resolved whole budgets in 48 hours," Stivers said.
But Stivers said he doubts lawmakers will shorten this year's legislative session, as Senate President David Williams suggested earlier this year.
Williams, who was absent from the Senate Friday because he spoke Thursday night at a political gathering of the Republican Governors Association in Washington, had said he would like to see lawmakers adjourn early to save taxpayers about $65,000 a day. The Senate did not vote on any bills while Williams' was absent on Thursday and Friday.
Stivers said he expects legislators will meet next Monday through Friday and the following Monday, March 7. Then, the session will adjourn until March 21 and 22, when lawmakers would return to consider any vetoes by Beshear, he said.
Stivers, R-Manchester, also said he remains hopeful that the Senate will reach a compromise on a proposal that would require prescriptions to buy cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient commonly used to make methamphetamine. Senate Bill 45 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but has not yet been considered by the full Senate.
House Bill 463 — an overhaul of the state's criminal code that is expected to generate millions in cost savings — has passed the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is expected to be voted on by the full Senate on Monday.
Many legislators expressed concern in January that the legislative session would not generate many substantial changes because Williams is running for governor, but both Stivers and Stumbo said this year's governor's race has not affected the legislature's work.
"These two chambers have fought for independence," Stivers said.
Stumbo noted that the state's two-year budget won't be considered again until next year and that most major pieces of legislation require money.
"It is not unusual for us not to have large, major pieces of legislation in a non-budget year," Stumbo said.