Tuesday, April 02, 2002

House ready to pass Ky. budget

Senate, too - but different one

By Mark R. Chellgren
Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The House and Senate went their separate ways on the budget Monday, leaving little likelihood of a resolution before the session ends on April 15.

        The House and Senate plan to pass their own versions of the budget today, seeking to gain political advantage with their approaches.

        After a 90-minute closed-door meeting Monday, House Democrats agreed on a spending plan with tax reform initiatives, including an income tax cut for low-income Kentuckians. It adds a $200 million pot of projects for members to take home and more money for education.

        The Senate approach is more minimalist — retrenching and no new money for education, despite claims from Republican leadership when talks broke down on Saturday. The Senate wants to score its points with something not in the budget — money for partial public financing of the 2003 gubernatorial campaign.

        Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, repeatedly called public financing “welfare for politicians” and a system that could cost much more than the $9 million set aside in the House version of the budget.

        Unless public financing is eliminated, Mr. Williams said the Senate would not go along with a budget. “We were not willing to sign a blank check,” Mr. Williams said.

        House members said they did not want to do away with the public financing system, first used in the 1995 election, without a full debate and vote within the entire General Assembly, not just 20 members of a budget conference.

        House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, said eliminating public financing is a scheme put forth by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, his party's leading advocate of no-limit campaign spending.

        “We're not going to let public financing go away so Senator McConnell can buy the Capitol,” Mr. Clark said. “It's all about getting Ernie Fletcher elected.”

        While the House and Senate can vote on their separate plans, there will be no budget emerging from the legislative session unless both chambers pass the same plan. The new budget starts with the 2003 fiscal year on July 1.

        In 2000, the first part of the session also ended without a budget agreement, but negotiations produced a plan on April 15, when the constitution dictates that the session must end.

        Mr. Williams and House Speaker Jody Richards said a resolution may still be reached. But if it doesn't, several avenues remain.

        Gov. Paul Patton could call a special session only on the subject of a budget. And if no agreement is reached, Democrats maintain the governor has executive authority to spend money once the new fiscal year begins, a position disputed by the Republicans.

        “I don't think it's going to happen this time,” House Democratic floor leader Greg Stumbo said. “This is more of a political issue than a budget issue.”

        With no documentation available, the details of revised budget plans were difficult to come by Monday.

        The House planned to embrace several tax reform initiatives, such as eliminating the deduction for corporate income taxes paid to foreign countries. There would also be income tax relief for many, by adopting federal amounts for standard deductions.

        With the extra money, the House would increase basic state aid to local schools by 2.7 percent in the 2003 fiscal year, which is more than the 1.6 percent raise contained in the original version of the House, Senate and Patton budgets.


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