House-Senate committee meeting today on hashing out state budget but have big task ahead of them

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

A House-Senate conference committee starts working today on the two-year state budget bills from the two chambers and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer is approaching it positively.
“This is really unprecedented territory for all of us,” he said. “It’s the first time Republicans have had the majority on the conference committee, due to our supermajorities in the House and Senate.  I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been waiting for this a long, long time.

“I hope it means we get a more conservative spending plan that recognizes our needs and not necessarily our wants in this current environment we find ourselves in,” he said.

Damon Thayer (Kentucky Today photo by Tom Latek

The committee convened early morning since the chambers will not be meeting again until Tuesday. Thayer said they probably won’t know until Friday afternoon if there is enough progress that they won’t need to work over the weekend.

The House proposed a 50-cent per pack hike in the cigarette tax, a 25-cent per dose tax on opioids and eliminating the $10 tax credit on personal income tax returns to raise $500 million, but the Senate removed that from their version.

Thayer was asked if they might back off on that.  “I doubt it.  I don’t think tax increases are on the table.”

Thayer would not comment on whether the Senate would back off a mechanism for state employee lay-offs or funding for charter schools, other than to say, “The language regarding layoffs and furloughs is the same language the General Assembly provided Governor (Steve) Beshear and several past budgets, so I think that’s much ado about nothing.”

State employee groups have taken to social media to protest the layoff language included in the Senate version of the executive branch budget bill.

Thayer also doesn’t anticipate any new revenue measures approved in the legislation.  “I don’t see that as a possibility right now, but again, once we open things up, who knows?”

Thayer said he has been meeting for months with people who have been asking for more money, or at least keeping it the same.  

“I tell everybody we’re not going to be able to do everything we want. We’re going to try to do the things we need.”

He also said he’s hopeful that Senate Bill 1, the pension reform legislation, can be revived.  

“It would be calamitous if we adjourned without some sort of structural reforms for our pension systems.”

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