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Lawmakers return to Frankfort with no budget deal

FRANKFORT — Kentucky lawmakers will return to Frankfort on Wednesday for two final days of work without a state budget proposal to vote on.

House and Senate leaders tried throughout the day Tuesday to hammer out an agreement on a one-year budget but failed to reach a compromise.

When Republican leaders in the Senate left their offices in the early evening, they declined to comment on the status of negotiations between the two sides. Later, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he had proposed another compromise.

Some in the House and Senate say a deal could be reached Wednesday morning in time for both chambers to vote by midnight Thursday, the deadline imposed by the Kentucky Constitution to end the 60-day session.

If a deal isn't inked Wednesday, Gov. Steve Beshear would have to call a special legislative session before the next fiscal year begins July 1.

A key sticking point between the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate is whether to include construction projects in a planned one-year budget. The House recently offered to trim a nearly $1 billion projects plan to $300 million, but Senate officials said they did not want to authorize new debt during a recession.

On Tuesday, Stumbo said his chamber tried to broker a compromise that would replace the state's worst schools, commonly called Category 5 and Category 4 schools.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a written statement late Tuesday that he provided the Senate with a plan that "addresses the need of Category 5 and 4 schools, as had been proposed yesterday, and that provides for fundamental infrastructure needs."

"I don't want to comment further until the Senate has seen this last effort to reach a compromise," he said.

It's not clear what Stumbo meant by "fundamental infrastructure needs." He was not available for further comment.

Stumbo said the latest plan "accomplishes the goals of being fiscally responsible and creating jobs and opportunity."

Senate leaders were not immediately available for comment late Tuesday.

The two sides have been at loggerheads for more than two weeks over the state budget. They were able to hammer out deals on K-12 education spending and Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor and disabled. They also agreed to produce a one-year budget, instead of the traditional two-year spending plan, House and Senate leaders have said.

Earlier Tuesday, Beshear said he remained hopeful that House and Senate leaders would be able to approve a state budget before Thursday's midnight deadline.

Beshear said the public expects legislators to produce a budget.

"The one job that the legislature has that taxpayers expect out of them above anything else is passing a budget to run the government," Beshear told reporters after a signing ceremony for a consumer protection bill. "I think that the taxpayers and voters will be very disappointed if they did not meet that obligation by April 15."

If legislators don't meet the deadline, Beshear said, "we will have to be back in a special session, and the taxpayers would have to pay them an additional amount of money for doing a job that most people think they should finish in the regular session."

Each day of a lawmaking session costs taxpayers about $64,000.

Even if legislators are able to pass a budget by midnight Thursday, Beshear will be able to veto the entire document or line-item expenses. The legislature does not have any time left in the 60-day session to override his veto.

"Until I know exactly what I'm dealing with, I'm keeping all those options open," Beshear said.