Ky. reps, senators negotiate budget

Members of the Kentucky Senate and the House of Representatives met multiple times over the weekend to negotiate a budget that will likely result in higher taxes or higher tuition — or both.

The House and Senate have been in a conference committee since Wednesday trying to find middle ground between the drastically different $19 billion budgets proposed by each body.

Two weeks ago, the House approved increasing taxes on gas and cigarettes to balance an estimated $900 million state revenue shortfall over the next two years. Last week, the Senate approved a budget that raises neither tax. Instead, the Senate budget takes about $110 million more from the state’s lottery system and calls for budget cuts in state services.

Both parties approved cuts to higher education in their budgets, although none as high as the reduction proposed by Gov. Steve Beshear in December. Beshear put into place a 3 percent cut for this fiscal year, and recommended a 12 percent reduction on top of that for the next two years.

The House approved maintaining the 3 percent cut, while the Senate approved a total higher education cut of 6 percent.

Among the issues discussed by the committee are tax increases and the lottery, as well as potentially freeing some non-violent offenders from jail to save state money, and restructuring Kentucky’s debt.

This year’s legislative session is slated to end April 15. In that time, the conference committee must agree to a budget to send to the governor. The governor must then approve it, and both the House and the Senate must separately approve the final budget.

In even-numbered years, sessions may not be more than 60 legislative days nor extend beyond April 15, according to Kentucky law. Thursday will be the 60th day of the session.

If this year’s legislative session does not come to an agreement by then, the legislature may go into special session, which must be called by the governor.

UK’s tuition numbers will be determined in April. The university looks at state revenue before deciding how much to raise tuition and fees for students, but tuition figures should be figured out in April even if there is a special session, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

President Lee Todd has said on multiple occasions in the last few months that without an increase of $20 million each year, the university cannot guarantee tuition increases of less than 10 percent for next year.

It’s too early to tell whether there will be a double-digit hike at UK with the budget not very far along, Blanton said.