Republicans, Democrats unable to compromise on budget

Emma Collins

For several days, Democrats and Republicans in Kentucky’s House and Senate have been locked in debate, unable to reach a compromise regarding the state’s budget.

The Republican-run Senate’s budget proposal restored a majority of Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget cuts which the Democrat-backed House refused to support.

During a press conference, Bevin, surrounded by fellow Republicans, called out the Democrats for refusing to negotiate. He said the Republicans in the House and the Senate are willing to work to ensure that a budget will be approved before the legislative session is over.

“In order for that to happen successfully, it takes all parties being involved, and by all parties that means the others who have a voice in this — in this case, the Democrats in the House,” Bevin said.

The House did agreed to put $301 million in a rainy day reserve fund, something Bevin and the Senate both requested, in exchange for the removal of all cuts to postsecondary education.

The House’s proposal also included funding for the Work Ready Program, a program that guarantees free tuition for new high school graduates attending a Kentucky community college.

So far, the Senate has refused to support the Work Ready Program. In an effort to compromise, the House also agreed to require recipients of the scholarships to take a minimum of 15 credit hours and maintain a 2.5 GPA. Previous plans required recipients to take only 12 credit hours per semester.

The House included a revised version of the Senate’s performance-based funding model in its proposal.

In a counteroffer, the Senate agreed to spare K-12 budget cuts. The proposal would also leave $298 million in the reserve fund instead of the originally planned $371 million. The Senate reserved $19 million for the House to appropriate as they see fit.

The House rejected the Senate’s counteroffer because the 9 percent cuts to postsecondary education remained.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat, said the amount of university funding Bevin and the Senate want to cut is concerning.

“We heard testimony from the University of Kentucky president that these 9 percent cuts would have a chilling effect on higher education in Kentucky,” McGarvey said during the budget’s presentation.

Kentucky currently has $38 billion in unfunded liabilities.

Sen. Christian McDaniel said the unfunded pension is the state’s most pressing problem.

“The fact is that if we don’t invest in the biggest problems confronting us, mainly the unfunded pension liability, that this problem will only get worse in the future,” McDaniel said.

The Senate wants to give as much money as possible to state pensions. The Senate’s original budget gave $1.19 billion towards the pension fund. The House’s plan gave $1.12 billion towards the fund.

Democrats and Republicans were able to successfully compromise on the judicial system’s budget. Bevin originally cut 4.5 percent and then 9 percent of the court’s budget for the next two years.

As a compromise, the 4.5 percent cuts were removed and the two 9 percent cuts remained. The budget also gives $37 million from the executive budget to the judicial system.

Other compromises include an agreement to spare K-12 schools from budget cuts and to put $250 million in the reserve fund.

The legislative session is scheduled to end on April 12. The Democrats have asked for that date to be pushed back to April 15 so there will still be time to veto the governor’s budget proposal. It is written in the state constitution that the session can not extend past April 15.

Sen. Robert Stivers, the Senate president, said the Democrats need to be more willing to sit down and negotiate.

“We’re prepared and ready to go forward, and we ask the [House] speaker, let’s sit down, whether it be in front of the cameras or in a closed session, and resolve these issues and move forward,” Stivers said.