Top Lawmakers Say Spending Will Be Selective This Session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - House and Senate leaders said Friday that lawmakers will likely be selective in spending a $401 million budget surplus that spurred Gov. Ernie Fletcher to propose a broad range of initiatives.

House budget chairman Harry Moberly said the governor outlined some good priorities, but said action will likely be limited to matters needing urgent attention before 2008, when lawmakers put together the next two-year state budget.

"We will not open up the budget to the extent that the governor has proposed," Moberly, D-Richmond, said in an interview.

Leaders from both chambers met Friday to discuss to what extent lawmakers might tinker with the current $18.1 billion budget passed by the General Assembly last year.

"What should or should not be open, or what rises to the level of compelling, is what we're talking about," said Senate President David Williams.

Williams, R-Burkesville, said there appeared to be a sentiment not to reopen the budget "anymore than absolutely necessary."

In his State of the Commonwealth speech this week, Fletcher proposed using $50 million to shore up retirement systems for teachers and state employees from financial problems that could put their health care and pensions at risks in coming years.

The proposals by Fletcher, who is seeking re-election this year, also included:

* $25 million to supplement financial aid for needy college students.

* $10 million to pay for retraining of workers at two Ford plants in Louisville.

* $5.8 million to purchase antiviral drugs to guard against bird flu.

* $4.1 million to cover the cost of voluntary vaccines against a sexually transmitted virus known to cause cervical cancer.

Fletcher recommended putting $151 million into a trust fund used in emergencies.

Moberly said his priorities include reinforcing the retirement systems for teachers and state employees and hiring more social workers and making their jobs safer. Moberly said he also supports putting money toward the anti-cervical cancer vaccinations.

House Speaker Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat who is running for governor, said that taking care of the pension systems and the rainy day fund were priorities.

One Fletcher proposal with widespread support is restoring more than $351.6 million in construction projects that he vetoed last year, primarily at the state's public colleges and universities.

"Everybody is looking at restoring the projects," Richards said. "Not adding anything, not subtracting anything."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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