The Richmond Register

March 13, 2014

House sends $20.3 million budget to Senate

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — It took four hours and it won’t last long in its present form when it reaches the Republican-controlled state Senate, but the House passed a $20.3 billion, two-year budget late Thursday on largely, but not entirely, party lines.

The budget contains more money for elementary and secondary education, more for textbooks and pay raises for teachers and state employees. It restores money for Child Care Assistance for childcare of working poor parents, spends $100 million for expanding broadband Internet services and offers more money for prosecutors.

But it also cuts many agencies by 5 percent after five years of budget cuts totaling $1.6 billion and adds $984 million in new debt.

But most of Thursday’s lengthy debate had more to do with procedure and politics than specifics in the budget.

On Wednesday, Democrats postponed a vote on the budget, saying members wanted more time to review it. Republicans had filed a series of amendments to the bill.

Later Wednesday, budget chair and bill sponsor Rick Rand, D-Bedford, filed a floor amendment of his own to the budget, likely the actual reason Democrats postponed the vote.

That amendment added some spending, including $25,000 annually for a public theater in Glasgow and funding to match local taxes to build new schools in a few communities. Then Thursday, Rand called for that floor amendment rather than the original bill.

That left the Republican amendments attached to a bill not on the floor for discussion and leaving them no time to offer amendments to Rand’s amended version. Republican Minority Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown protested and challenged the procedure, but Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, ruled that Rand’s amended bill was in order.

That didn’t keep a series of Republicans from speaking against the bill, a lot of them criticizing it for spending tied to Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid and establishment of health benefit exchanges under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, said a vote for the budget was a vote for Obamacare. Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, quizzed Rand on how much money was in the budget to cover the expanded Medicaid costs and running the health benefit exchanges.

At that point, Rand said the Republicans’ questions weren’t about the budget but about “Washington-style politics” and expressed fear that Republicans would shut down state government by holding up the budget.

After that, several Republicans got up to say it wasn’t about politics or the fall election in which they hope to take control of the House from Democrats — but they often talked about “Obamacare,” an issue Republicans have openly talked about using in the election in Kentucky and in other states. Democrats sounded political themes, too.

Republicans accused Democrats of “being afraid to have the discussion” about the way Beshear implemented the law by executive order rather than seeking legislative approval.

A few Democrats rose to defend the new law, the Affordable Care Act, while others commended Beshear for operating a state exchange rather than leaving the health exchange to be operated by the federal government.

But on one procedural vote about whether to consider an amendment by Fischer to delete funding for the exchanges, 29 Democrats didn’t vote. But because Republicans could muster only 46 votes, it wasn’t enough to require a vote on the amendment itself.

Eventually Hoover and others returned to the financial aspects of the budget, criticizing the level of debt and some of the spending decisions. Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, criticized the “sweeping” of restricted funds for general fund expenses.

Hoover also criticized the imposition of student fees at community colleges to finance new construction at those campuses.

After a litany of speeches, the vote finally came and as expected the measure passed 53-46. Two Republicans — Jim Stewart of Flat Lick and Steve Rudy of Paducah — voted for the bill. Two Democrats — Jim Wayne of Louisville and Arnold Simpson of Covington — voted against it.

The bill will now go to the Senate which will make changes, almost certainly significant ones. That’s likely to produce a conference committee near the end of the session, which must conclude by April 15 to work out differences and recommend a final plan to both chambers.

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.