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With Clock Ticking On Legislative Session, Kentucky Lawmakers Resume Budget Talks

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Ryland Barton
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Kentucky lawmakers resumed budget talks on Monday after a nearly two-month break.

Legislators still have little to show for the one-year state spending plan even though they only have about a week before the deadline to send it to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk.

Part of the holdup is uncertainty over how much aid Kentucky will receive from the federal government as part of the coronavirus relief package making its way through Congress.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said he’s still not sure how much money the state will get.

“We’re trying to get at that as fast as we can and we’re getting briefed on it on a couple of different levels,” Stivers said.

The U.S. Senate last week approved an aid package that includes $350 billion for state and local governments. It still needs to be approved by the U.S. House.

Though Beshear’s budget proposal earlier this year called for an increase to education funding, overhauling the unemployment system and providing coronavirus aid, the final version approved by the legislature will likely look nothing like that.

Earlier this year, Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature advanced a “placeholder” budget that keeps spending at current levels, with plans to revise the proposal later in this year’s annual session.

But lawmakers’ energies have also been focused on passing bills that strip Beshear’s powers during the pandemic and a variety of other measures. The legislative session also paused for a week amid severe winter weather across the state last month.

During a meeting of the Budget Conference Committee on Monday, Republican House Speaker David Osborne said lawmakers will also need to consider responding to recent flooding in eastern Kentucky.

“If there’s anything that we can either do – I think even budget-wise to help relieve some of these problems – we stand ready to do so,” Osborne said.

Though lawmakers usually pass a budget every two years, they only passed a one-year budget last year amid financial uncertainty at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

That means they have to pass another one-year budget this year during a 30-working day legislative session, even though budgets are normally written during 60-day sessions.

Republicans hope to pass a finalized budget out of the legislature before March 17, the beginning of a 10-day period where Beshear can sign or veto legislation.

They plan to return for the final two days of the session on March 29 and 30 to override any of Beshear’s vetoes of the budget.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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