Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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March 28, 2014

Tensions rise during budget negotiations

FRANKFORT — Tensions increased Friday between the Republican Senate and Democratic House over continuing negotiations on a new, two-year budget. It even got personal at times.

A conference committee of leaders from both parties and chambers resumed meeting on the budget Friday morning around 10:20. They continued to compare differences line-by-line in the competing budgets passed by each House.

When it came to discussing money for spouse abuse shelters and cancer screenings, Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said she couldn’t understand why the Senate might want to reduce funding for those.

Senate Budget Chair Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said no one wanted to reduce funding for those services but the Senate believes insurance can cover some of those costs.

“We’re on TV here, and we’re having a debate over whether we’ll have cancer screenings for women,” Overly said. “That’s unconscionable.”

“I disagree with that,” Leeper responded. “We’re having a debate on the best use of taxpayers’ money.”

Republicans also seemed to suggest Democrats wanted to spend the money in the districts of their members. House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, called the suggestion “malarkey.”

“Now, do y’all want to get a budget or not?” Clark asked.

Leeper responded that “with all due respect,” the Senate budget did not include specific spending decisions in its members’ districts, and again said it is appropriate for budget negotiators to look for the most efficient use of public money.

“Well, I’ve got a heart,” Clark responded. Leeper took offense, but before the discussion could continue, several members of the committee suggested the meeting adjourn for lunch and the afternoon sessions of the two chambers.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he expects budget negotiations to continue into next week.

“My guess is we’ll be here Tuesday and Wednesday at least,” he said. “I haven’t talked to President Stivers about changing the schedule, but it’s obvious that the committee is just bogged down in all the minutiae and as Rep. Overly pointed out the big policy decisions aren’t being addressed.”

But later during a Republican Senate caucus meeting, Stivers said Republicans intend to stick to the calendar established before the session began and end work no later than Monday.

“I don’t understand the House,” Stivers said. “They think we’re going to extend this on – we’re not. If it gets to the point in time that we can’t get a budget document out of here and the House wants to abdicate its authority to the governor, then we’ll just go start negotiating with the governor.”

He went on to say the Senate would not use up scheduled veto days in April to consider vetoes by the governor. (Friday was the 56th day of a session which cannot exceed 60 days. The legislature has scheduled three veto days after a 10-day break.)

Stumbo didn’t seem too concerned when told of Stivers’ comments about negotiating directly with the governor.

“They’re slow readers down there (in the Senate), so maybe somebody may want to read ‘em the constitution,” Stumbo said. “The appropriation of money is a legislative function.”

The two sides were tentatively scheduled to sit down again around 4:30 Friday afternoon. Stumbo said he expected them to work late but break up in time for staff and lawmakers to get to a television to watch Friday night’s NCAA Tournament game between the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville.

Earlier Stivers accused the House of caring “more about basketball than budgets.”

The conference committee was expected to continue meeting through the weekend. Both chambers are scheduled to convene Monday at noon.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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