State legislative leaders said they’ve made progress after the first day in Kentucky history that Republicans were in control of budget negotiations. But major differences between the state House and Senate versions of the two-year spending plan remain.
The Senate opposes the House’s proposal to raise about $500 million in revenue by increasing the cigarette tax and creating a tax on opioid pain pills.
Meanwhile the House put about a $1 billion more in the teachers’ pension system than the Senate did.
After the first day of direct negotiations between the two chambers, Senate President Robert Stivers said talks were “productive.”
“Now that we’ve seen this, we’ve had some discussions on some rationale, we’re going to take a little bit of a break. It’s been a long week,” Stivers said. “We’re going to let everyone digest what’s been said and done and we’ll be back up here to plow forward on Monday.”
Republicans have had a majority of seats in the state Senate since 2000 and won control of the House after the 2016 elections.
But several differences remain between the House and Senate’s wishes for the budget.
Both chambers went along with most of Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed 6.25 percent cuts to most of state government, though the House shielded higher education institutions from the reductions.
The House set aside money for the state to open up two new private prisons to help alleviate overcrowding in the state’s prisons and jails. The Senate proposed requiring county jails to house more state inmates and prioritizing space for state inmates over federal ones.
The chambers also fund the state’s ailing pension systems differently. The Senate would send about $1 billion less to the teacher pension systems, saying it should be put toward even-worse funded retirement systems for non-hazardous duty state employees and state police.
That’s raised concerns for some that the teacher pension fund would have a cash-flow problem under the Senate’s version of the budget.
Though Senate Republicans are already veterans to the budget process, this is the first time House Republicans have led their chamber’s budget discussions.
Acting House Speaker David Osborne said he’s confident the two chambers will knock out their differences next week.
“Part of the learning curve quite frankly for us is understanding where that comfort level lies and where we need to be in this process,” Osborne said.
The legislative session officially disbands on Friday, April 13. Lawmakers said they hope to pass a compromise version of the budget by next weekend in order to have time to return and override any vetoes Bevin makes to the spending plan.
Bevin has the power to veto part or all of bills within 10 days after it is passed by both chambers of the legislature.