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Accusations Fly As State Budget Negotiations Stall

After a day promised to yield budget negotiations between leaders of the Democratic House and the Republican Senate, state lawmakers are no closer to passing a two-year budget deal.

Legislators and Gov. Matt Bevin are fighting over how to start fixing the state’s underfunded pension systems and distribute spending cuts across state programs.

The sticking points haven’t changed. Leaders of the Democratic-led House want about $205 million in proposed cuts to higher education off the table. They also don’t like Bevin’s proposal of a “permanent fund” for the pension systems, which House Speaker Greg Stumbo called a “slush fund.”

“There’s no guarantee it’s going to be used for anything related to pensions,” he said. “We just don’t believe if you have the money that you should shortchange education. And we have the money.”

Leaders of the Republican-led Senate disapprove of the House’s plan to take surplus money out of the Employee Health Insurance Trust Fund to put toward what Sen. Chris McDaniel called “random areas of the budget.”

“We think that as long as that money is there, it needs to be dedicated to paying off the unfunded liability in the pensions,” McDaniel said.

Lawmakers from both parties expressed hope that the conference committee would hammer out a compromise late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. But aspirations of finding common ground became increasingly unlikely as legislators dug in their heels in the wake of the closed door meeting.

Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, accused the Senate of “throwing up roadblocks.”

“Well, we’re getting farther and farther apart," he said. "I think probably the more the governor meets with the Senate, the farther apart we get.”

Bevin met privately with the Senate Republican Caucus on Monday afternoon.

He later released a Youtube video, filmed in the Capitol Rotunda, asking viewers to call Stumbo to jumpstart budget negotiations.

“Encourage Speaker Stumbo to sit down in good faith and negotiate a budget. This is what we need to do, to compromise,” Bevin said, standing in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

“The idea of doing what liberals have too often done, which is to keep kicking the can down the road," he said in the video. "This has got to end. This is not a solution. The people of Kentucky deserve better than this.”

Bevin struck a more conciliatory tone after the late-night meeting.

“Everything — with all due respect to any single part of it — should be able to be put on the table. Every part of it, that’s what negotiation is,” he said.

The General Assembly has just three more official working days to negotiate a final version of the budget. Although lawmakers usually set aside the last two days to take place after Bevin is given a week and a half to veto bills, it looks likely that legislators will use both scheduled “veto override” days to continue the budget negotiations.

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