FRANKFORT—State House and Senate leaders have agreed on the details of a $20.3 billion biennial state budget that largely preserves Gov. Steve Beshear’s intention to restore funding for K-12 education. A final vote on the plan is expected late Monday night.
In a half-hour press conference that followed over 14 hours of closed-door budget discussions this weekend, the weary duo of House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers said that the budget reflects compromises on some often contentious issues – such as the Affordable Care Act – that were reached since budget negotiations began in earnest Wednesday.
But they were tight-lipped about the mechanisms the budget will put into place regarding a request by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to issue $65 million in bonds toward a $310 million renovation of the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray asked lawmakers to use bonds to pay for $65 million of a $310 million renovation. Legislative leaders have provided scant details of their final decision. But House Speaker Greg Stumbo says the state will provide a path forward should the project’s financing plan pass muster.
“They will have a path forward, and it’ll be a fairly clear path,” Stumbo said. “And if they accomplish what the General Assembly would want them to do, then the path will be cleared for them.”
Gray pitched his case to lawmakers during budget talks over the weekend, but was prohibited from offering any details of the project due to a verbal non-disclosure agreement he made with the university.
Provisions to block state money from being used on Kentucky’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act will remain in the budget agreement, according to Stivers. The ACA covers the costs of implementation through 2017, after which the tab will be split with the state.
Stivers said lawmakers will send the governor a budget that blocks general funds from going toward the state’s health insurance exchange, called Kynect, and the expansion of Medicaid.
He acknowledged that much of the heated debate of the ACA was “political theater.”
“I think everybody saw that we have worked hard over the last three or four days,” Stivers said. “There’s been a lot of discussions. At points in time, there may have been a little bit of political theater involved. But tonight we’ve reached an agreement, compromising and understanding the realities of each person’s positions and each region’s positions and each party’s positions.”
Currently, over 320,000 people have been insured through Kynect, with two-thirds obtaining Medicaid coverage.
The agreement will also appropriate 10 million dollars over the next two years for the fund at the University of Louisville that pays for treating poorer patients at the university’s hospital.
Louisville Democratic Rep. Larry Clark championed the provision, which was previously cut in a version of the state’s $20.3 billion budget drafted by the Senate.
“I want to thank President Stivers and Speaker Stumbo for recognizing the need there and we’ve come up with a very great agreement. We’ll use necessary government expense for the first year at $6 million, the second year at $4 million, with a study for one year to see where the costs lie.”
According to the deal, the city of Louisville will have to pay $8 million over the next two year’s toward the cost of indigent care.
Other highlights include:
- Funds for cancer screenings have been restored. The funds were cut by the Senate from a previous version of the $20 billion budget. But Republican Senate President Robert Stivers says the new compromise will restore baseline funding for a number of preventative care options, as well as research.
- The annual number of mine inspections in Kentucky will decrease. Stumbo says he and Senate Republican leaders have agreed on language that will reduce the number of yearly mine inspections from its current level of six to four. The Senate had previously reduced the number of annual inspections to two. But the state Energy & Environment Cabinet said that would put miners’ lives in danger.
- Mandatory raises for public school teachers have been preserved. -Funds that would prevent the firing of Kentucky State Police troopers will be included. $1.7 million will be spent to retain 15 out of 25 “R Class” troopers, which are retired officers that are rehired into the agency.
- KCTCS funding will be cut by 1.5 percent each year, and will include language that preserves 16 campus projects outlined by Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget. -$56 million for a renovation of the Louisville International Convention Center.
Lawmakers have yet to tackle the state’s two-year road plan, estimated to cost about $4.5 billion, and will work through the night to get everything passed by midnight.