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House-Senate panel reaches compromise




FRANKFORT

After more than a week in special session, legislative leaders tentatively agreed Tuesday to a plan that would resolve a projected $1 billion budget shortfall in the coming year.

House and Senate negotiators also agreed on a plan aimed at eventually building new Ohio River bridges between Kentucky and Indiana and were near agreement on an incentives package to spur economic development, House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters.

Stumbo said the tentative $9.4 billion budget agreement contained no frills.

“There’s no joy in Mudville,” Stumbo said. “It doesn’t provide for a whole lot other than just a way to manage state government, but that’s what we’re going to unfortunately find ourselves doing over the next two, four, six years until we climb out of this recession.”

Kentucky would maneuver through its tough financial times using more than $740 million in economic stimulus money from the federal government. Most state agencies would also face cuts of 2.6 percent.

Prosecutors and public defenders — groups that had to furlough employees this fiscal year — would get more funding under the plan. The measure also would allow the University of Kentucky to use private funds to expand some of its sports facilities, including the football and baseball fields.

State employees would not be required to take unpaid vacation days under the measure. Gov. Steve Beshear had proposed state employees each take between three to five unpaid holidays.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he expected the Senate would approve the agreed budget on Wednesday. Williams said he expected agreement on the other two issues as well.

“I anticipate that we will reach an accord on everything that we can agree on,” Williams said.

Beshear, who ordered the General Assembly into special session praised the work of legislative negotiators.

“With a spirit of bipartisanship and collaboration, we are close to completing legislation that will maintain funding for much of education and key areas of health care and public safety,” he said. “We are on the verge of moving forward with a policy agenda that will create jobs across our commonwealth and stimulate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic investment — precisely the prescription we need during a difficult recession.”

Beshear ordered lawmakers back to the Capitol last week to deal with a deepening state budget hole of $1 billion and other matters he deemed pressing.

Intense focus quickly hardened last week around the measure to allow video slot machines at race tracks.

Lawmakers have for years considered plans that would expand gambling in Kentucky, which already allows people to bet on horse racing, bingo, pull-tabs and a state lottery. This year, unlike ever before, the measure cleared the Democrat-led House.

It met firm opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate. A budget committee on Monday rejected the proposal leaving it with only the slimmest chance of survival.

“We have an industry in trouble, there’s no question about it,” Beshear said. “Where we go from here, we’ll wait until this session is over with and sit down and talk with a lot of folks about what our options may be.”


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