Lawmakers Agree On Budget After All-Night Session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky lawmakers said they've agreed on a nearly $19 billion, two-year state budget after working through the night, ending seven days of intense negotiations.

During their talks, lawmakers scuttled proposals to raise revenue through an increase in the state's tax on cigarettes and impose the state's sales tax on certain services. Instead, lawmakers settled on a scaled down spending blueprint that will include 3 percent cuts to public universities.

"The eagle has landed, and we have a budget," House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said Tuesday morning, after more than 20 grueling hours of budget talks.

Legislators hoped to agree on a proposed budget by midnight Tuesday to be able to pass it and preserve their authority to override any possible vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, said there's still time for the General Assembly to vote on the measure by Wednesday night.

This year's budget negotiations started out in stark contrast to years past, when legislators held their entire talks behind closed doors. Leaders agreed to open the talks to the public and broadcast them live on Kentucky public television.

That lasted five days before lawmakers took their discussions behind closed doors. Lawmakers huddled in the privacy of a Capitol annex conference room throughout Monday and well into Tuesday morning, with as many as four state police troopers standing guard in the hallway.

A sagging economy and soaring government expenses have caused economic forecasters to predict the state is facing an approximate $900 million revenue shortfall over the next two fiscal years.

Beshear proposed an austere two-year budget that called for 12 percent cuts to public universities and numerous government agencies and programs. Beshear called on lawmakers to avoid the cuts by passing a cigarette tax hike of 70 cents a pack to generate nearly $200 million per year. The money could have helped finance hundreds of millions in bonds, Beshear said.

The House and Senate proposed dueling plans aimed at raising millions more in revenue to carry Kentucky government through the tough financial times that are expected.

Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House proposed raising the cigarette tax and imposing the state's 6 percent sales tax on certain services. That proposal also was rejected by budget negotiators.

Kentucky's cigarette tax is among the lowest in the nation at 30 cents a pack, and health advocates say raising it could have improved the state's overall physical well-being.

"We're very disappointed. We see this as a missed opportunity," said Tonya Chang, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association. "As long as we fail to act, we're going to continue to have the highest rates of adult smoking in the nation. And we're going to continue to suffer tobacco-related deaths and disease."

Members of the GOP-led Senate, meanwhile, balked at the idea of raising any taxes. Instead, the chamber approved a plan that would have relied on about $110 million in additional lottery proceeds.

After the budget talks, lawmakers agreed to take $14 million more from the lottery during the next two years.

Legislative leaders canceled Monday afternoon meetings of the full House and Senate to allow more time for budget negotiations.

Among other things, the agreed budget would give teachers and state employees pay raises of one percent in each of the next two fiscal years. It would also put $60 million into Bucks for Brains, a program that provides state matching money for private donations to universities for research and other spending.

Richards said lawmakers also included money to keep proposed bridges in Louisville on track, and included language to allow for tolls.

Dick Brown, a Beshear spokesman, said the governor had not had a chance to review the details.

"The governor and his staff will have to take a look at what their proposal is, look at all of it and see where it is and see how it fits with the governor's proposals," Brown said. "We'll take it from there."

(Copyright 20008. The Associated Press.)

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  • by Astounded Location: Kentucky on Apr 4, 2008 at 07:45 PM
    We are facing a budget crisis! Our state is in a CRISIS! Yet, with all the cuts and all the sacrifice the legislators actually gave themselves a RAISE and INCREASED THEIR BUDGETT!!! How can we ever have an ounce of respect for any of them??!! This is an outrage and the people of Kentucky should not stand for it!! The saddest part of all of this is that the legislators are counting on the people to not notice. They actually think we’re just that stupid--otherwise, they’d never try this. Or, maybe THEY are just that stupid! Either way, they all have to go!
  • by All the citizens Location: Kentucky on Apr 4, 2008 at 06:38 PM
  • by Beth Location: Frankfort on Apr 4, 2008 at 06:32 PM
    Beshear, you have ONE chance to redeem yourself. Veto this absurd budget! DO NOT let the legislators give themselves raises! DO NOT let them increase their budget! You need to help your hard working employees--we're drowning here!! At the VERY LEAST, the legislators should be treated (suffer) the same as every other state employee.
  • by John G Location: Lexington on Apr 4, 2008 at 06:25 PM
    Fred and J, Am I to understand that you think education (an area we're already clearly lacking in) should suffer so that you can continue to pay one of the lowest prices, in the nation, for cigarettes? Give me a break! Your priorities are way out of line. I hope by some miracle they end up passing the cigarette tax, and they should add tax to alcohol as well. We don't have to have either to get by. YOU don't HAVE to smoke. That's the point. If they can find a way to add tax to fast food, etc. then by all means! Until then, learn to suck it up and pay the price or quit! The choice is yours.
  • by Mary Location: Lexington on Apr 4, 2008 at 06:12 PM
    They can give themselves raises, increase their budget by millions and the rest of us can just rot. That's the message I'm getting. Not one of these pocket-padding creeps should ever be elected again! VOTE THEM OUT!!
  • by Surrounded by Legislative thieves!! Location: Frankfort on Apr 4, 2008 at 06:10 PM
    Four words... Vote them ALL out!!!!!
  • by John Location: Lexington on Apr 4, 2008 at 06:58 AM
    And you all though Ernie looked bad??
  • by Confused Location: Ky on Apr 4, 2008 at 06:41 AM
    I have worked in banking for years. I see all kinds of payroll checks. How do teachers explain that they have one of the best paying jobs in the state and yet cry wanting more raises.They have weekends and summers off.While I agree that teaching is a hard job....I feel you get paid plenty enough.You have the best benefits and time off work.Politicians are another bunch that are paid entirely too much. I don't know any teachers or politicians that live in poverty.however, there are people who work in factories daily that don't have money to eat on or gas to get there.
  • by JohnDoe Location: Frankfort on Apr 3, 2008 at 04:50 AM
    Brilliant! To save money let's just not fill the jobs of the State employees that are going to retire this year. Those that are still working can take on the extra duties of these retirees and they won't have a problem with getting absolutely nothing in return. That 1% raise a year is more than sufficient to make them happy. I don't know about anyone else, but I sure would LOVE to shake some of the lawmakers hands that came up with this idea. One question, though, don't those of us that still work for the State still have to keep contributing to retirement to cover all the baby-boomers that are getting ready to retire. If there are fewer workers to contribute, it only makes sense that the well will run dry much quicker. Correct me if I'm wrong.
  • by John Location: Pikeville on Apr 2, 2008 at 07:02 PM
    I will get a 1.5% raise next year teaching because I will be dropping KEA and will not have to pay dues. Why continue paying dues when lobbyists in Frankfort can't do anything to help teachers?? Isn't it a waste?


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