By Beth Musgrave – firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — House and Senate leaders have agreed to change their work schedule to give the two chambers more time to hammer out an agreement over the two-year budget.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the two chambers have agreed to push the 58th day of the 60-day legislative session from Tuesday to Wednesday, allowing leaders to focus on the budget during closed-door meetings on Tuesday.
Legislative leaders have been meeting for the past five days to find middle ground on the budget. The major sticking point is a plan proposed by the House to borrow $1 billion to construct schools, water lines, sewers and roads. The Senate nixed the House’s construction plan over concerns about driving the state deeper into debt.
Stumbo said after the Democratic caucus met on Monday that the majority of the caucus wants to keep the construction projects — which House leaders contend will create 25,000 jobs — in the budget.
Both Stumbo and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said they are hopeful an agreement can be reached by Wednesday so lawmakers can return for the 59th day of the session on Friday and approve the more than $17 billion spending plan.
“Hope springs eternal,” said Williams, when asked if he thought the Wednesday deadline for an agreement was realistic.
The two chambers did not resume budget talks Monday evening, in part because of the death Monday of Joan Stivers, the mother of Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
Besides the conference committee on the budget, several other conference committees dealing with other pieces of legislation will also meet Tuesday, said House leaders. Still, Tuesday will not count as a legislative meeting day unless one of the full chambers convenes.
Monday was the 57th day of the 60-day session. The legislature had been scheduled to meet Monday and Tuesday and had two remaining days in April to override any potential veto by Gov. Steve Beshear. If the legislature moves one of those days in April to Friday, it will only have one day to override vetoes, probably on April 15.
Stumbo said Monday that the two sides have come to tentative agreements on some issues, but provided few details.
“We have some general areas that we have general agreements in that are not final,” Stumbo said. “That’s on the revenue side. That’s on the education stuff. We’re getting closer on education. We’re getting pretty close on water and sewer. Now we’re talking about the construction projects.”
The House’s two-year, $17.5 billion budget had cut two school days to save about $72 million over the two years. The Senate had proposed a 1.5 percent cut to the main funding formula for schools in the first year and a 1.0 percent cut in the second year. The Senate did not include additional money to restore the two school days but gave schools more leeway to use other pots of state money to close funding gaps.
The House version of the budget also included a series of tweaks to business taxes to generate revenue over the biennium. The Senate took out those provisions — including an acceleration of sales tax and a temporary suspension of net operating losses for businesses.
The two sides are also still negotiating on the state’s two-year road plan. The House passed a $3.4 billion plan while the Senate’s plan was closer to $4.2 billion. Stumbo said the Senate had not yet agreed to borrow $300 million that the House had proposed in order to speed up some construction projects that have languished in the state’s road plan for years.