Monday, April 12, 2004

Budget talks hit wall

Lawmakers debate whether to include Fletcher's tax plan

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - House and Senate lawmakers returned to Frankfort last week for budget negotiations that were expected to yield an agreement on next year's spending plan.

Instead, they finished the week with prospects for a General Assembly-agreed-upon budget teetering on the verge of collapse.

After two days of heated deadlock, budgeteers recessed their conference committee indefinitely.

The primary stumbling was whether conferees would discuss Gov. Ernie Fletcher's tax plan as part of the budget or separately.

Senate Republicans maintained it was necessary to discuss the tax plan first to know how much revenue they could be dealing with.

House Democrats, meanwhile, argued the tax plan was a separate issue and was irrelevant to the budget talks. Because Fletcher's tax plan was supposed to be "revenue neutral" it shouldn't have an effect on next year's budget, which begins July 1, they said.

After negotiations halted Thursday, Senate Republicans said they were crafting their own spending plan that would be considered friendly to House Democrats. They would then present it to the Senate and the public today, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said.

The proposal would then head to the House for consideration.

"We're enthusiastic about the budget that we're sending back over there and I think it will be very difficult for anyone in good conscience ... to vote against that," Williams said.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said House Democrats were likely to produce their own budget document. It likely would not include a tax plan, Richards said.

Lawmakers may present those plans today.

If neither plan is approved by both chambers, the legislature may likely repeat the 2002 session. That year, lawmakers adjourned without an agreed budget, leaving then-Gov. Paul Patton to produce his own emergency spending plan.

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