Kentucky budget talks break down


Associated Press

Posted on March 28, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 28 at 4:02 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A $500,000 roof on a Louisville domestic violence shelter threatened to derail the state's $20 billion two-year state spending plan for health care, education and public safety.

Democratic state Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, wants state taxpayers to pay $500,000 to replace a roof on the Center for Women and Families in Louisville.

But Republican state Sen. Bob Leeper, R-Paducah, removed that money from the budget, saying it is the Senate's policy to not include pet projects with no statewide impact in the two-year state spending plan.

"Congratulations to you," Clark shot back. "I've still got a heart."

With that, House and Senate lawmakers angrily walked away from the negotiating table with little progress after two days of budget talks.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, called Clark's comments a "typical ploy of the House to accuse somebody of something." And he hinted that House Democratic leaders are more interested in Friday night's NCAA tournament basketball game between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

"If the House doesn't want to come and be serious, if they're more interested in basketballs than budgets, then come Monday we'll start negotiating with the governor," Stivers said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters that he was not going to the basketball game in Indianapolis on Friday night. And he downplayed Friday afternoon's argument, calling it a normal part of the budget process. He said lawmakers will most likely have to resolve their differences in a closed meeting away from the TV cameras.

"After a certain numbers of hours, we've seen these types of things happen before where members get a little tired, get a little irritated. Progress is very slow. It's like watching paint dry," he said.

Lawmakers did agree on some small things Friday morning, including $250,000 to help poor law school students pay their tuition and requiring the Corrections Department file a report every year about how they spend money made from sales at prison canteens.

But lawmakers have yet to agree on the more expensive items, including raises for public school teachers, a 1.5 cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax and $64 million to renovate Rupp Arena in Lexington.

The budget includes $67 million for a 2 percent raise for the state's roughly 100,000 teachers and support staff in the first year and a $107 million for a 1 percent raise in the second year. But the money is not enough to cover how much those raises would actually cost, meaning some school districts would have to make up the difference.

House Democrats want to make those raises mandatory, arguing school districts have enough flexibility in their budgets to cover the cost. But Senate Republicans say mandating raises for school districts that cannot afford them could lead to layoffs.

Stivers, the Republican senate president, said he wants to help teachers, noting that his cousin - a teacher - sent him a text message during the debate asking him to help teachers.

"I don't' want to help my cousin right out of a job either," he said