Lawmakers agree on plan for Kentucky's budget

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - After more than a week in special session,
legislative leaders tentatively agreed Tuesday to a plan that would
resolve a projected $1 billion budget shortfall in the coming year.
House and Senate negotiators also agreed on a plan aimed at
eventually building new Ohio River bridges between Kentucky and
Indiana and were near agreement on an incentives package to spur
economic development, House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters.
Stumbo said the tentative $9.4 billion budget agreement
contained no frills.
"There's no joy in Mudville," Stumbo said. "It doesn't
provide for a whole lot other than just a way to manage state
government, but that's what we're going to unfortunately find
ourselves doing over the next two, four, six years until we climb
out of this recession."
Kentucky would maneuver through its tough financial times using
more than $740 million in economic stimulus money from the federal
government. Most state agencies would also face cuts of 2.6
Prosecutors and public defenders - groups that had to furlough
employees this fiscal year - would get more funding under the plan.
The measure also would allow the University of Kentucky to use
private funds to expand some of its sports facilities, including
the football and baseball fields.
State employees would not be required to take unpaid vacation
days under the measure. Gov. Steve Beshear had proposed state
employees each take between three to five unpaid holidays.
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he expected
the Senate would approve the agreed budget on Wednesday. Williams
said he expected agreement on the other two issues as well.
"I anticipate that we will reach an accord on everything that
we can agree on," Williams said.
Beshear, who ordered the General Assembly into special session
praised the work of legislative negotiators.
"With a spirit of bipartisanship and collaboration, we are
close to completing legislation that will maintain funding for much
of education and key areas of health care and public safety," he
said. "We are on the verge of moving forward with a policy agenda
that will create jobs across our commonwealth and stimulate
hundreds of millions of dollars in economic investment - precisely
the prescription we need during a difficult recession."
Beshear ordered lawmakers back to the Capitol last week to deal
with a deepening state budget hole of $1 billion and other matters
he deemed pressing.
Intense focus quickly hardened last week around the measure to
allow video slot machines at race tracks.
Lawmakers have for years considered plans that would expand
gambling in Kentucky, which already allows people to bet on horse
racing, bingo, pull-tabs and a state lottery. This year, unlike
ever before, the measure cleared the Democrat-led House.
It met firm opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate. A budget
committee on Monday rejected the proposal leaving it with only the
slimmest chance of survival.
"We have an industry in trouble, there's no question about
it," Beshear said. "Where we go from here, we'll wait until this
session is over with and sit down and talk with a lot of folks
about what our options may be."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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