Beshear to be “flexible” with budget plan as House, Senate budget hearings begin

Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday he will be flexible with his proposed plan to address the state’s budget shortfall as House and Senate lawmakers began hearings in Frankfort to try to find budget savings and new revenue.

“When I put this plan out, I said it was a starting point,” Beshear told reporters during a teleconference. “I’m flexible. I’m open to any ideas.”

Members of the House and Senate budget committees met in joint session Tuesday to receive a briefing on Beshear’s proposal to close a $456 million gap in the state’s budget this fiscal year. 

“The governor’s office pretty much captivated most of the meeting,” said Sen. David Boswell, a Sorgho Democrat. “This is the first day of our being able to look into possible areas of cuts.”

Lawmakers heard from acting State Budget Director John Hicks, who explained that most areas of state government excluding corrections, Medicaid and SEEK funding to school districts would be facing 4 percent cuts under the governor’s plan for a total savings of about $150 million. 

Beshear is also calling for increases in the state’s tobacco taxes, including a 70-cent per pack cigarette tax increase, which he anticipates will raise $81.5 million for the state this fiscal year. 

Rep. Brent Yonts, a Greenville Democrat and House budget committee vice chairman, said Beshear’s plan faces challenges right now, particularly in the size of the cigarette tax increase and the use of $17 million in coal severance funds. 

“As it’s laid out right now, that plan I do not believe will be accepted in its current form,” Yonts said. 

The full legislature will return to Frankfort on Feb. 3, and Yonts said he learned Tuesday that the savings and new revenues Beshear’s plan is based on require the plan to be passed by Feb. 15. 

“Obviously I’m going to be in conversations with legislators, with leadership on a daily basis if necessary,” Beshear said when asked how he will participate during the recess. “I’m hoping we will be able to come up with an agreed to solution toward the end of this month or early next month.” 

Read more about Tuesday’s activity in Wednesday’s Messenger-Inquirer.

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