Democrats, state's higher education leaders agree to cut to end budget gridlock

Kentucky Capitol
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT/AP) - In an effort to avoid a special session, Kentucky House leaders and the state's college and university presidents say they have provided Gov. Matt Bevin with a budget compromise that "should resolve the major differences."

House Democrats say they would agree to spend less on state colleges and universities if it means lawmakers could reach an agreement on a two-year plan to spend more than $65 billion in public money.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said House leaders offered a compromise on Wednesday that would reduce spending on higher education by 2 percent in the budget year that begins July 1. Spending levels would remain the same for the following budget year.

The compromise was offered Wednesday, but it was not made public until Friday.

Kentucky's college and university presidents say they will agree to budget cuts of 2 percent in the current year and 4.5 percent over the next two years to end the gridlock over state spending.

In a letter to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, nearly all of the state's college and university presidents say they would agree to the cuts in order for lawmakers to pass a budget. Kentucky State University's president did not sign the letter.

Senate Republicans have insisted on cuts to higher education in order to pay more money toward the state's public pension debt. House Democrats had refused to make any cuts to public education. Stumbo said the proposal retains his party's commitment to education while moving the budget process forward.

Budget talks fell apart last week, but lawmakers came back together to continue their budget negotiations. Still, they have not been able to agree to terms on a budget.

“We have worked hard at finding a middle ground since budget talks first began, and we have not gotten much back in return,” House leaders said in a joint statement. “However, our university presidents have been put in a position that is unfair and unwise. We still think that postsecondary education should not be cut, but if it is, our plan is the one that should be followed.”

If the House and the Senate don't pass a budget by April 15, the governor could call a special session. Those sessions drain the state's reserve funds of tens of thousands of dollars a day, so state lawmakers are hoping to pass a budget by April 12.

If lawmakers do not pass a budget by July 1 portions of state government would shut down.

Earlier this week, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo met up with other members of the budget committee to try to reach an agreement.

The statement says the House plan also calls for funding the “Work Ready” scholarship program that would help cover the cost of tuition for students who attend a postsecondary school that offers associate degrees, starting this fall.

“This proposal maintains the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus’s commitment to public education while attempting to move the budget process forward,” the House leaders said. “As for current-year cuts, those are being reviewed by the attorney general, and we continue to believe the governor does not have the authority to take this step. We believe that matter should be left up to the courts.”

Stivers has said he thinks the House will compromise on the higher education cuts. He is confident a budget will be approved by the end of the general assembly.

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