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“This Week in Frankfort” from the LRC, and what a week it was

April 2, 2010

On tomorrow’s editorial page, we’ll be offering our thoughts on the broken process Kentucky uses to craft a budget every two years. The process culminates in a flurried attempt to find consensus behind closed doors, and an anxious appeal to lawmakers to pass a budget most haven’t had a chance to read.

That’s at least part of what’s happened this year, although this week’s closed door meetings haven’t produced a budget, and lawmakers have headed for home for two weeks before the final two days before the session that wraps up on April 15.

That means whatever spending proposal lawmakers are able to send along to the governor for his signature – if they are able to find a budget all can agree with – can be vetoed as a whole or in part by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Folks in Owensboro remember the last time that was the case – in 2006, when then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher used his veto power to scrap funding for the second phase of the advanced technology center.

All that, and more in tomorrow’s editorial.

But for now, hear what the Legislative Research Commission’s public information office has to say about the week that was in Frankfort.

This Week in Frankfort

The 2010 Kentucky General Assembly: Week 13

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

FRANKFORT – It was for many a long and dispirited drive home to their respective corners of the Commonwealth this week, as lawmakers left Frankfort late Thursday for a 10-day veto recess with budget talks between the House and Senate stalled and both chambers well apart on at least some key budget issues.

This after a week of closed conference committee meetings usually described in optimistic terms by those in the room. Even early Wednesday, one top leader indicated an agreement might be in sight, and hopes rose that a bill could be agreed to, printed (a 36-hour process), and ready for a vote Friday.  By Wednesday afternoon that hope had evaporated and conferees dispersed, some saying the differences might not be resolvable this week – or this session.

But Thursday, the Senate unveiled a surprise, in the form of a compromise bill that restored a good portion of the basic education funding its original budget proposal had earlier cut, and offered some flexibility on the school construction and other projects the House wanted. Projects and the resulting bonded debt were the main sticking points in the weeklong negotiations.

But House leaders said the Senate proposal basically restated a position they had already rejected, and both chambers adjourned Thursday evening, with lawmakers going home until returning for the session’s two final days April 14-15. Budget conferees, of course, are free to continue their negotiations during the recess with an eye toward having an agreement in place when the full Legislature returns.

The seven days of budget negotiation — especially Wednesday — carried with them a sense of procedural urgency. The Legislature was up against three constitutional restrictions. It must give the governor 10 days, excluding Sundays, to consider bills for veto. It can only meet for 60 working days. And it must adjourn by April 15.

Complicating matters further was simple logistics: A massive bill like the budget would have to be settled on by Wednesday so it could have its final changes incorporated — and its final version proofread and printed in bill form — to realistically schedule a Friday vote.

The importance of getting the budget passed by Friday? So the Legislature could retain its prerogative to come back in mid-April after the veto recess and override any vetoes the governor might impose on it. Any bill passed and vetoed after Friday is override-proof.

The importance of at least getting it done by session’s end? To avoid coming back to Frankfort in a potentially costly special session later, to try passing a budget again before the new fiscal year starts July 1.

The main hangup proved to be the two chambers’ disagreement on bonding for a statewide package of school construction and water and sewer projects that House leaders promote as not only badly needed, but a ‘jobs creation program’ that will save or create 25,000 jobs in the state’s recession-ravaged economy.

The Senate, pointing to that same recession, counters that the $1 billion in new debt those projects represent would send the state into a ‘debt death spiral.’ Further, it has said a House proposal to temporarily suspend an operating-loss tax deduction for business and accelerate collection of sales taxes would slam small businesses at a time when they should be left unmolested to grow the economy and expand payrolls.

The House says the tax-code changes have only temporary two-year impact, while helping the state bridge across the massive revenue shortfall it faces in the coming biennium. That gap is projected at over a billion dollars, maybe as much as $1.5 billion. The overall budget under negotiation is somewhat more than $17 billion.

The House-Senate budgets as passed do differ in significant other particulars. But negotiators have generally reported good progress resolving those differences in most areas outside of the bonded-debt issue.

A quick list of where a few selected bills at week’s end:

  • Amanda’s Bill, to allow GPS tracking in domestic violence cases: Appeared briefly on Thursday to have died in conference committee because agreement could not be reached on conflicting provisions, but later that day it was announced that lawmakers would continue trying to find a compromise before final adjournment.
  • House Bill 540, to rescue the state’s ailing teachers’ health-insurance fund: Passed both chambers.
  • Senate Bill 88, which will make organizations like the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties subject to sunshine laws, and impose other financial and operational transparency requirements on them in response to recent questions on spending: Passed both chambers, sent to the governor for his expected signature.
  • A bill that makes it a felony for corrections workers to have sex with prisoners: Passed both chambers, signed into law.

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