Lawmakers work to reconcile budget differences as session winds down

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - With only a handful of legislative days left in the General Assembly's regular session, lawmakers are still trying to reach an agreement on a two-year state operating budget.

Negotiations were scheduled to continue on Tuesday evening following adjournment of the House and Senate, but legislative leaders pushed those meetings back until Wednesday because of the volume and complexity of other business in those chambers that kept lawmakers in session until around 6 p.m.

Lawmakers moved their calendar around to free up more time for negotiations, swapping a scheduled off day Thursday for Wednesday.

Even though the House and Senate will not gavel into session on Wednesday, the budget conference committee will meet, giving conferees more time to reconcile differences between the two chambers' budget bills.

Wednesday will mark the third day of budget conference meetings.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters on Tuesday evening that remaining sticking points include what he calls "big-dollar" items.

"Healthcare in two areas, how pensions are funded, restoration or not restoration of university budgets," Stivers said. "Those would be the big dollar figures, along with some bonding issues, because those were substantial."

Lawmakers from both chambers already seem to agree on stripping funding for private prisons, Stivers said. The House version included money for it; the Senate version did not.

That was just one of the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

The House's budget bill reversed many of the cuts in Gov. Matt Bevin's budget proposal. The governor's budget fully funded pension obligations but proposed deep cuts to much of state government, including stripping funding to 70 different programs.

The House budget passed the House by large margins, but it and its companion revenue bill included provisions - including an opioid tax - that faced resistance from Senate leaders before it even made it to the chamber.

The Senate's version of the budget included more of the cuts the governor had proposed and did not create any new taxes.

The budget conference committee is scheduled to meet again at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Stivers said he thinks lawmakers will come to an agreement this week.

When the House and Senate gavel back into session Thursday, it will be Day 57 of the General Assembly's 60-day session. Stivers told reporters that pension reform and tax reform are still possible, but not probable.

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