Ky. budget talks end 5th day without a deal

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A state budget deal remained elusive
Sunday evening after a fifth day of closed-door talks between
Kentucky House and Senate negotiators.
Conferees met off and on for more than three hours Sunday in
trying to bridge gaps between Senate and House versions of a
two-year state spending plan. Afterward, Senate Majority Floor
Leader Robert Stivers said negotiators were having "good
discussions," and that various proposals were being considered.
"I wouldn't say there's a deadlock at this time," said
Stivers, R-Manchester.
Stivers said a time hadn't been set yet for the conference
committee to reconvene.
The General Assembly's top leaders - House Speaker Greg Stumbo,
D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville
- left without speaking to reporters.
In a statement later, Stumbo said the House and Senate
negotiators were exchanging proposals. He said the focus of House
bargainers was on a House-backed plan for nearly $1 billion in
projects that the Senate removed from its budget.
Stumbo has said the massive construction program would stimulate
job creation at a time of stubbornly high unemployment in Kentucky.
The Senate has balked at adding to the state's debt load to finance
the projects.
State lawmakers will be back in session Monday for the 57th day
of their 60-day session. Lawmakers will set aside one or two days
in mid-April to consider any gubernatorial vetoes.
The negotiators, who began their talks last Wednesday, have been
trying to craft a final budget version that could be voted on by
the Senate and House on Tuesday.
Stivers raised doubts about meeting that goal, noting it takes
some 30 hours to get the massive budget document prepared and
printed for lawmakers. He told reporters it was a "fair
assumption" that lawmakers would have to continue meeting later in
the week.
The Senate passed a $17.3 billion two-year budget that called
for deeper spending cuts to almost all state agencies than the
House's $17.5 billion version.
The Senate included a 1½ percent cut in the first year for the
main state funding formula for elementary and secondary schools,
followed by an additional 1 percent in the second year. The funding
formula was spared in the House version.
But Senate leaders say their proposal gives local school
officials more flexibility to dip into other funds to help offset
the funding decrease.
Also, the Senate wants to preserve two instructional days for
public schools that the House proposed eliminating, though the
Senate didn't add money to pay for the two days.
In another disagreement, the Senate dropped two tax-code changes
proposed by the House that would temporarily suspend a tax
write-off and accelerate sales tax collections. Those tax changes,
opposed by business interests, would raise about $270 million in
two years.
Lawmakers faced a shortfall exceeding $1 billion when they
started working on the budget earlier in the year.
The budget legislation is House Bill 290.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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