Politics

10:23 p.m.: Lawmakers from both chambers and political parties resumed budget negotiations behind closed doors late Wednesday evening.

This is the first time today the budget conference committee has formally met, as lawmakers have met privately in the Frankfort Capitol and annex discussing problematic portions of the budget in small groups.

The committee has to come to an agreement on the $21 billion two-year budget plan sometime Thursday morning to have the document prepared for a vote by midnight Friday.

Legislators have been tight-lipped about the negotiations, giving reporters snippets of optimism in between closed-door meetings.

House Minority Whip Johnny Bell tweeted “Word is that budget negotiations will last until 300am.”

7:43 p.m.: Lawmakers still haven’t spoken publicly about the budget negotiations today.

According to staff, members of both chambers have separated into small groups to privately discuss potential solutions in the various segments of the budget. It’s still unclear if members of both parties and chambers are meeting together.

How to distribute coal severance revenue to coal-producing counties has remained a sticking point late into the budget negotiations.

Members from the Democratic-led House want to increase counties’ share of the revenue with the state from 50 percent to 100 percent. Republican Senators have been skeptical of that plan and the current way severance revenue is distributed, saying the money is squandered on projects that bring little benefit to local communities.

Senate Minority Whip Jimmy Higdon tweeted a picture of himself having dinner with Gov. Matt Bevin, along with Sens. Damon Thayer, Dan Seum, Ernie Harris and Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman.

After dinner, Higdon told reporters that “progress is being made” on the budget. The full conference committee is now expected to meet after 8 p.m.

2:37 p.m.: Legislative leaders canceled a 2 p.m. press conference to brief reporters on the state of the negotiations.

Spokesmen from the Democratic House and the Republican Senate said lawmakers were meeting in private, but they wouldn’t say if members from both chambers and parties were meeting together or if the governor’s office is involved.

Senate Majority spokesman John Cox said lawmakers were gaining “momentum” and that it was a “positive sign” the news conference was canceled.

“We’re not sure exactly where the meeting stands right now, but I was told that there was progress moving forward. I can only imagine that if they’re still meeting, that’s a good thing,” Cox said.

House Majority spokesman Brian Wilkerson said negotiations would take at least 10 or 11 more hours as lawmakers try to come to a compromise by an early Thursday morning deadline.

1:30 p.m.: Budget negotiations are scheduled to resume in Frankfort this afternoon. Lawmakers have only hours to hammer out a final compromise in time for the end of the legislative session.

Legislators have to come to an agreement by early Thursday morning to get a budget document prepared for a vote in both legislative chambers sometime on Friday, when the General Assembly officially ends.

Budget talks are expected to go into the early morning.

The stakes of meeting the deadline are high: Yesterday, Gov. Matt Bevin announced he would not call a special legislative session to give lawmakers more time to negotiate.

If lawmakers don’t reach an agreement by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the state will be thrown into a partial government shutdown, with only necessary government services staying open.

Negotiations have been fraught so far. Senate Republicans are going along with Bevin’s plans to put more money into the state’s ailing pension systems by cutting most of state government by 9 percent over the next two years.

House Democrats are going along with those cuts, but along the way they’ve tried to shield K-12 and higher education from reductions while pushing for a free community college tuition program and shifting all coal severance tax revenue to coal counties.

Lawmakers say they’ve come to a compromise on higher education cuts — 4.5 percent to state colleges and universities — but are still at odds over how to allocate much of the $21 billion two-year budget.

Stay with us for live updates as negotiations continue.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.