A conference committee of Kentucky lawmakers worked into the night Tuesday to craft a two-year, $21 billion spending plan for the state.
They had motivation. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said earlier in the day that he wouldn’t call a special session of the General Assembly in coming months if lawmakers fail to agree on a state budget by the time they adjourn Friday.
Only the governor may call a special session and set its agenda. Lawmakers determine how long it lasts, at a cost to taxpayers of $62,000 a day.
“I will not reward the inability to do a job,” Bevin said.
Without a budget in place when the next fiscal year begins July 1, there would be severe limits on how Bevin could spend money. Nobody knows exactly what those limits are, but a 2005 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling against then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher indicated a governor operating without an approved budget could appropriate funds only for items covered by a statutory, constitutional or federal mandate.
Examples listed in the Supreme Court’s decision included salaries for the governor, lieutenant governor, lawmakers, judges and commonwealth’s attorneys; “an efficient system of common schools,” as the state’s 1891 Constitution refers to K-12 schools; old-age pensions; prisons; and a state militia. State spending on more modern items, such as social services and parks, don’t appear to be covered. And it’s not clear how the state universities would be affected.
Bevin said he was confident House and Senate leaders would craft a compromise budget this week. But if they don’t, he added, the blame should be put on House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
“If the legislature walks out of here, it’s really going to come down to him,” Bevin said.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, shot back in a statement that blamed Bevin for the budget process running so late.
“One of the chief reasons it is taking so long to complete the budget is because this is one of the worst I’ve seen submitted by a governor in my 35 years in the Capitol,” Stumbo said. “It was flawed and contained a significant number of errors, doing such things as cutting veterans services when (Bevin) promised those would be exempt. It offered a ‘permanent fund’ without any attempt to make it permanent or require how it would be used. It called for $100 million in debt without citing where this money would be spent.”
House and Senate budget negotiators resumed talks Tuesday after hitting an impasse Sunday night.
When they broke at 6:30 p.m. for supper, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said they were making progress. He said negotiators would work a few more hours and resume Wednesday.
They hope to reach an agreement by Wednesday evening, allowing time for the budget bill to be printed before the full House and Senate reconvene Friday.
Bevin also took a swipe Tuesday at Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear for legally challenging the governor’s March 31 order to cut funding to universities by 4.5 percent this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate was to hold a hearing on Beshear’s lawsuit Thursday, but he changed the date to April 21.
Beshear said he would drop his lawsuit only if Bevin rescinded his order and agreed not to reduce university spending after a budget bill is signed.
Bevin indicated Tuesday that that wasn’t going to happen. He predicted a victory in court and said Beshear “needs to clean up the mess in his house.”
That was an apparent reference to the federal bribery charge brought last month against Tim Longmeyer, who was Beshear’s deputy attorney general.
Longmeyer’s alleged crimes occurred when he was secretary of the Personnel Cabinet under then-Gov. Steve Beshear, the father of Andy Beshear. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said no one in Andy Beshear’s office is under investigation.
Beshear argues that a governor may not cut a budget already approved by the legislature without a declared revenue shortfall.
Bevin contends the cuts are legal and are needed to boost the state’s cash-strapped public pension programs, which have an unfunded liability of more than $30 billion.
Late Tuesday afternoon, three Democratic state representatives from Louisville — Jim Wayne, Mary Lou Marzian and Darryl Owens — asked the court to join Beshear’s lawsuit against Bevin. They said 20,000 students at the University of Louisville could face a tuition increase if the cuts are implemented.