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Lawmakers strike deal on state budget, but Rupp Arena out of luck

State Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By John Cheves

FRANKFORT — Top Kentucky lawmakers emerged from a closed room about 5:30 a.m. Sunday to announce they had reached a deal on a $20.3 billion, two-year state budget that does not provide major money for a proposed renovation of Rupp Arena.

“I think it’s responsible. It makes a pretty significant and strong statement toward education,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters after the conclusion of an 18-hour negotiating session between House and Senate leaders.

One high-profile casualty was the $65 million in bonds Gov. Steve Beshear proposed in January for the renovation of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center in Lexington. Instead, the state budget will include “a small sum,” to be matched with local funds, so Lexington can move ahead with more planning, engineering and programming on the project, Stivers said.

If Lexington publicly produces a formal financing plan for the Rupp Arena renovation and a signed lease agreement with the University of Kentucky, which uses the venue for its men’s basketball games, then it can return for more money in the 2015 legislative session, Stivers said.

“There are mechanisms in place for it to go forward,” Stivers said.

greg-stumbo-3Some lawmakers on the budget conference committee said they were unimpressed by a personal appeal Lexington Mayor Jim Gray made for Rupp Arena funding on Saturday. Gray said UK has not yet signed a future lease deal for the arena, and he said he could not publicly disclose the proposed terms of UK’s next lease or his own plan to pay for the renovation project.

State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said she believes Gray did the best he could Saturday fielding queries from lawmakers.

“There are some very good questions about the plan that right now the mayor simply cannot answer,” Flood said Sunday afternoon. “I sense right now that the Senate really does want to keep the project moving forward, but they want more assurances about how the financing would work. If he (Gray) can come back, even in our next session (in 2015), having rolled out a formal financial plan, there could be some more help then. I don’t think it would have to wait until our next budget in 2016.”

Gray had not seen details of the budget agreement as of early Sunday afternoon, said spokeswoman Susan Straub.

“We need to see it and make sure we understand it before we comment on it,” Straub said.

Gray also has asked lawmakers to let Lexington raise its hotel and motel tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent, which would yield about $3.5 million a year for the $328 million reinvention of Rupp. That proposal, which is not part of the state budget, appears to face an uphill battle in the Senate during the final days of this year’s legislative session.

House and Senate leaders, who spent the night cloistered in a committee room of the Capitol Annex, reached a consenusus on hundreds of differences in their proposed budgets. Most were relatively minor, but some involved huge sums of money or made significant changes to state policy, including:

House panel approves local-option sales tax, but vote in House is uncertain

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-PrestonsburgBy Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — A proposal to give cities and counties the option of asking voters to support a sales tax increase for local projects cleared a state House panel Tuesday, but it’s future in the full House looks doubtful.

Minutes after the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs approved House Bill 399 on a 6-3 vote, House Speaker Greg Stumbo called it “bad policy” and said he did not know if the House will vote on it.

The five House Democratic leaders, which control the flow of bills to the full House, are divided on the issue.

Stumbo, of Prestonsburg, and House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark of Louisville expressed concern that the bill would limit the state’s ability to increase the sales tax statewide at some point in the future.

But House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson of Owensboro and House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris favor the bill, which is backed by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

Kentucky General Assembly gives final approval to Bryan Durman Act

Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, presents Brandy Durman, the widow of Lexington Police Officer Bryan Durman, with a state flag during a ceremony in the House chambers Thursday. Durman was struck and killed by a sport utility vehicle while he investigated a noise complaint on North Limestone in April. Photo by LRC Staff.

By Linda B. Blackford

The Kentucky General Assembly approved stiffer penalties Monday for those convicted of killing peace officers and sent the measure to Gov. Steve Beshear, who is expected to sign it into law.

Senate Bill 15 is known as the Bryan Durman Act, in honor of a Lexington police officer who was killed in 2010 by a hit-and-run driver. The driver, Glenn Doneghy, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and must serve 20 percent of his 20-year sentence before becoming eligible for parole in 2014.

What some perceived as a light sentence sparked SB 15, sponsored by Lexington Republican Alice Forgy Kerr.

The original version of the bill, approved by the Senate last month, would have required anyone convicted of second-degree manslaughter to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. Defense lawyers argued that the 85 percent requirement went too far and took away discretion from judges.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a compromise version of the bill last week. In the latest version, those convicted of second-degree manslaughter of a clearly identified police officer or firefighter would have to serve 85 percent of their sentence. Those convicted in a case where the peace officer was not clearly identified would have to serve at least 50 percent of their sentence.

Legislature approves bill to help Lexington’s CentrePointe development

State Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A bill that would help CentrePointe developers recoup costs for a long-delayed downtown development project cleared the General Assembly Thursday. It now goes to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature or veto.

The Senate gave final passage to House Bill 260 late Thursday night.

The measure lowers the amount of money CentrePointe developers will need to spend before they can start recouping money spent on infrastructure improvements, such as a parking garage. The bill lowers the threshold for a so-called signature tax increment financing project from $200 million to $150 million.

By qualifying as a signature tax increment financing program, financing costs for the project also will count toward the $150 million threshold.

According to Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington and sponsor of HB 260, the CentrePointe development will cost approximately $160 million.

Senate panel approves bill to stabilize Lexington police, fire pension system

State Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – A bill to stabilize Lexington’s police and fire pension system took another big step forward Wednesday in Kentucky’s General Assembly.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved House Bill 430 at the urging of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

Gray told the panel that the bill “will save” Lexington’s pension system for police and firefighters.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, would reduce the police and fire pension plan’s $296 million unfunded liability by almost half, to $160 million.

If the legislature approves the deal, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government would commit $20 million a year – up from the current $11 million – to more aggressively pay off the pensions’ unfunded liability over the next 30 years.

House panel passes bill to empower ethics committees in Lexington and Louisville

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — A bill that would give subpoena powers to committees in Lexington and Louisville that investigate alleged ethics violations within local government is heading to the full House.

The House Local Government Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 117 Monday. The Senate approved the bill 35-1 last month. The bill only applies to urban county governments.

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said the bill was in response to alleged ethics violations of council members in Louisville.

SB 117 would give ethics committees administrative subpoena power to gather documents and compel witnesses to testify.

Overhaul of state pension plan in doubt; changes to Lexington plan still possible

By Beth Musgrave

FRANKFORT — An overhaul of Kentucky’s pension system will probably have to wait for a special legislative session, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Tuesday. But there’s still hope lawmakers will quickly approve a separate plan to stabilize Lexington’s police and fire pension system.

State Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, filed a bill Tuesday containing a compromise plan for the city’s pension system that was hatched last month by Mayor Jim Gray, police and fire unions and pension board members.

The plan was ratified in recent days by 76 percent of active and retired police officers and firefighters.

House Bill 430 would reduce the police and fire pension plan’s $296 million unfunded liability by almost half, to $160 million.

Local officials in metro areas call for public pension reform, local sales-tax option

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined several other local government officials Tuesday to tout legislative approval of public pension reforms and a local-option sales tax.

In a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda, Gray said the financial problem with public employee pensions is the primary concern of a group called The Metropolitan Alliance for Growth. It is made up of mayors and county judges from the state’s largest metro areas who lobby the state legislature.

Lexington mayor says pension costs have ‘spiraled out of control’

By John Cheves —

FRANKFORT — For every $5 the city of Lexington spends, $1 goes to its public pension obligations, proof that “our pension costs have spiraled out of control,” Mayor Jim Gray said at a news conference Monday.

“For Lexington and Kentucky, if ever there was a ‘going out of business’ model, this is it,” Gray said. “Our pensions are unsustainable. There is no more kicking the can down the road.”

Gray, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and other local government leaders spoke to urge the 2013 General Assembly to pass pension reform, which could include a reduction in retirement benefits and a massive infusion of extra state cash into the Kentucky Retirement Systems. The various pension funds of KRS have a $13.8 billion unfunded liability.

The 30-workday legislative session begins Tuesday, but it’s unclear whether the legislature will seriously consider pension reform during this session, largely because nobody has identified where to get the several hundred million dollars a year needed to shore up the pension funds. An overhaul of state taxes proposed by a task force last year could raise some or all of the money, but the fate of tax reform also is uncertain in the 2013 session.

2012 Voters’ Guide: Find out where the candidates stand

Election Day is almost here, but there’s still time to find out where the candidates stand on the issues most important to you. Click the links below to see our Voters’ Guide for each race (all links are PDF’s).

President of the United States

U.S. House, Sixth District

• State House Districts in Fayette County Part 1 and Part 2 (Contested races only)

State Senate District in Fayette County (Contested races only)

• Urban County Council Districts 1-8 (Contested races only)

• Urban County Council Districts 9-12 (Contested races only)

Also, view a list of candidates in Kentucky’s contested state and federal races, along with candidates in contested local races in Fayette, Bourbon, Clark, Franklin, Jessamine, Madison, Scott and Woodford counties.

Key Voter Info:

• Polls are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time. Anyone in line by 6 p.m. may vote.

• To find out whether you are registered to vote, where you vote and which races you may vote in, go to the Voter Information Center at the State Board of Elections Web site, .

• Voters must produce identification or be known by a precinct officer before voting.

• If you see problems, call Attorney General Jack Conway’s election-fraud hotline, 1-800-328-8683 (press release).

• It is illegal for retailers to sell malt beverages, distilled spirits and wine during polling hours.