With time running out on this year’s legislative session, state budget leaders say they didn’t reach any compromises on a two-year spending plan during a day of closed-door meetings on Wednesday.
Questions remain about whether lawmakers will try and raise new revenue to boost the cash-strapped budget, what programs will be exempted from Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed 6.25 percent cuts and whether charter schools and a myriad of other state programs will be funded.
Senate budget chairman Chris McDaniel said lawmakers are slowly working towards a compromise.
“No final decision has been made on any of these things,” McDaniel said. “A lot of conversations have taken place.”
With majorities in both chambers of the legislature, this is the first year in Kentucky history Republicans have had total control of the budget-writing process.
But leaders of the House and Senate have different ideas about how the state should spend $22 billion over the next two years.
The House has proposed raising $500 million through tax increases on cigarettes and prescription pain pills in order to set aside more money for education and other programs, but Senate leaders have so far opposed the revenue increases.
Part of why this year’s budget is so tight is that both chambers contribute about $3.3 billion to the state’s ailing pension systems — about 15 percent of all state spending for the next two years.
Meanwhile, the Senate sets aside nearly $1 billion less for the teacher pension systems, diverting it for the worst-funded systems for non-hazardous duty employees and state troopers.
Legislators tasked with hammering out a budget compromise were scheduled to formally meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, but the meeting never took place despite a group of about 100 teachers showing up to greet the committee.
Instead, at about 5:30 p.m. McDaniel told reporters that lawmakers met privately in small groups all day.
Lawmakers have also been discussing whether to revive efforts to overhaul the state’s ailing pension systems.
McDaniel said a new version of the pension bill had been circulating among lawmakers.
“I would say there are many revised different versions of that bill being floated among the membership,” McDaniel said.
State workers — especially teachers — forcefully opposed the Republican plan to overhaul public retirement benefits earlier this year, stalling the bill ahead of a critical vote in the Senate.
The budget conference committee is scheduled to meet again Thursday afternoon.
Lawmakers are hoping to pass a budget out of the full House and Senate by Monday in order to have the opportunity to override any vetoes Bevin makes ahead of the closure of this year’s session.