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With Budget Talks Near Deadline, Bevin Says No Special Session

Kevin Bratcher holds papers at desk during committee meeting.
Legislative Research Commission
Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, presents House Bill 3, a bill geared toward juvenile justice reform before the House Judiciary Committee.

If lawmakers fail to pass a state budget by the end of the legislative session on Friday, Gov. Matt Bevin says he won’t call a special legislative session to give them more time.

If a two-year budget doesn’t pass by June 30, the state will be thrown into a partial government shutdown. Nonetheless, Bevin is adamant that he won't give lawmakers more time.

“I will not reward the inability to do the job that people were sent here for by paying them extra money,” Bevin said. “The job can get done. I believe the job will get done because the job should get done.”

The Legislative Research Commission estimates that it costs about $63,000 each day the legislature meets.

Only the governor can call a special session.

Lawmakers have been deadlocked over the budget for weeks and have now run into a hard deadline: The constitution won’t allow the legislative session to go past April 15.

Bevin, a Republican, has proposed cutting most state spending by 9 percent to set aside a hefty contribution into the ailing state pension systems.

But the House, still controlled by Democrats, has tried to shield higher education from the cuts. Recently, members agreed to a compromise that would cut state colleges and universities by 4.5 percent over the next two years.

But there are still three main sticking points: pensions, community college scholarships and coal severance money.

Senate Republicans say the House still needs to set aside more money for the pension systems. On Sunday night, Sen. Chris McDaniel, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said that his chamber wanted to put $374 million more towards pensions.

House Democrats are holding out on a $23 million community college scholarship program that would provide free tuition to Kentucky high school graduates.

The two chambers also disagree over how revenue from the coal severance tax should be spent. The House wants to send all of the funds back to coal-producing counties, while the Senate says the money is misspent on local projects that don’t stimulate the economy.

After disbanding budget negotiations Sunday night, lawmakers are once again meeting in private with hopes to come to an agreement sometime Wednesday. Legislative leaders say they need at least 36 hours to prepare the budget document in time for a vote in both chambers on Friday.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bevin blamed House Speaker Greg Stumbo for the drawn out budget proceedings.

“It is his responsibility to sit at the table in good faith, along with the Senate, and to come to terms on this,” he said.

“If we walk out of this town without a budget, it will be on him.”

Stumbo retorted in a statement that the reason the negotiations were taking so long “is because this is one of the worst I’ve seen submitted by a governor.”

“We are working hard to get a budget in time, but the only helpful thing he has brought to the entire process is advocating for moving back the final day of the legislative session. That’s not much of a legacy,” the statement read.

Stumbo criticized Bevin’s proposals to cut higher education and create a “permanent fund” to hold surplus money dedicated to the pension systems, saying fund would be at risk of being raided by future legislatures.

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