Kentucky budget faces possible impasse

Kentucky is facing a potential budget impasse. Lawmakers are currently trying to compromise on a two-year, $65 billion state budget. The budget is now in a conference committee, before it goes to the democratically controlled house for a vote.

The issue: pensions versus education. Two local lawmakers in the house Tuesday, Democrat Rep. Gerald Watkins and Republican Rep. Richard Heath commented on the impasse.

Heath said the Republicans in the House want to set aside money for Kentucky’s pension debt; a potential compromise proposes $250 million for pensions. It would be the money the governor could use after auditing the retirement system. Heath said they believe education is important, but it’s not the most pressing: "We also realize pensions are our No. 1 issues, and our KERS is only 17 percent funded, and we have obligations to these retirees to make sure their pension is there for them."

Watkins said they understand the importance of funding the pension system. Watkins said the House has worked on a good budget with the largest rainy day fund — money the governor can spend in times of need — but the only non-negotiable issue is education.

"But the sticking point everything from our standpoint on the House side is negotiable except education. We’re not going to allow the family resources centers, cuts in K-12 or higher education," Watkins said.

Tuesday morning Gov. Matt Bevin called attention to the impasse, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo in a news conference. Bevin said the house should compromise and stop delaying the inevitable. "There will be tremendous pain inflicted on the people of Kentucky if the speaker does not sit down and come up with a budget," Bevin said.

In response, Stumbo said Bevin needs to stop making silly videos. He was talking about a video Bevin posted to his professional Facebook page in which walked into the house chambers hours before the session was scheduled to start, asking the house to pass a budget. Stumbo said he stands by the need to fund, not cut education.

As for how much time legislators have to pass the budget, it’s not a lot. The budget needs to go to Bevin Monday. But if it doesn’t, we enter into the governor’s 10 day veto period, and legislators have to try and pass a budget again on April 11 or 12. If it passes then, legislators’ only hope is that Bevin passes the budget, and Bevin has said he will always maintain his veto power.

"Not a chance. Not a chance. That would be silly. It would be an abdication of my responsibility as governor of this state, and no governor should ever make a statement," Bevin said. 

The house can call a special session to work the budget, but neither Watkins nor Heath say they want that to happen.

If the house does call a special session, it’s estimated to cost taxpayers an average of $65,000 a day.

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