By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — After meeting for a little more than an hour Monday morning, House and Senate leaders agreed to return at 2:15 p.m. to resume negotiations on a more than $19 billion, two-year state budget.
The morning meeting focused on line-by-line differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.
Senate budget committee Chairman Robert Leeper, I-Paducah, said there are very few major differences between the House and Senate budgets. Once some global decisions are made — particularly involving debt — there will be few decisions left to make, he said.
House budget committee Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said after the morning meeting that the break will allow both sides an opportunity to gather more information about why the other chamber made key decisions.
The House authorized $552 million in borrowing while the Senate version authorized $391 million. The Senate also booked savings throughout its budget by lowering the projected interest rates of bonds, which are at historic lows.
House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, told Senate leaders Monday that the House would like to talk to staff at the Finance and Administrative Cabinet, which handles bonds for the state, before agreeing to a lower interest rate.
Some other key differences between the House and Senate budgets include:
■ The Senate version deletes a $30,000 annual living expense for Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson;
■ The Senate version does not authorize a $3.5 million state bond for the downtown Lexington redevelopment project;
■ The Senate version nixes an additional $3.5 million appropriation to the Kentucky Horse Park;
■ The House version includes millions of dollars in coal severance projects — or projects paid for by taxes from coal — that are not included in the Senate budget;
■ The Senate version does not include the Kentucky Appalachian College Completion Program, a proposed college scholarship for kids in Eastern Kentucky that would be funded by coal severance taxes.
The two sides need to reach an agreement by 3 a.m. Thursday in order for a budget bill to be printed and ready for a vote by both chambers on Friday. Monday is the 55th day of the 60-workday legislative session.