House, Senate leaders hope to have budget plan passed in a week

Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Friday during a morning press conference that they hope to have a plan to close a $456 million gap in the state’s budget passed and to the governor by Feb. 13. 

The plan, which is still being hammered out, will likely include cuts on par with those proposed by Gov. Steve Beshear, use of the state’s “rainy day” budget fund and a mix of increases on tobacco and alcohol taxes, Williams and Stumbo said. 

“Our members would like to see a blend (of tax increases),” said Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat. 

Beshear has proposed a 70 cents per pack increase on cigarettes that he estimated would provide the state with $81 million this fiscal year and $144 million next year. 

Williams and Stumbo said neither chamber would likely support that high a tobacco tax increase, but new revenue could also be raised by increasing alcohol taxes. 

Neither would say whether they were leaning toward raising the wholesale tax on alcohol or levying a retail tax on alcohol, which isn’t currently paid at the point of purchase.  

The two leaders met with Beshear Friday morning before the press conference in what Williams said was a “wonderful” meeting.

Williams said the details of the bill haven’t been agreed upon at this point, but he hopes to have the legislation to House and Senate members on Tuesday with the bill passing the House on Wednesday and then the Senate approving the measure on Friday. 

The legislation will have an emergency clause which means it can be immediately enacted. 

“It’s my opinion that action will be taken on the budget by next Friday,” Williams said. “We’re very close to coming to an agreement.”

Two measures proposed by the governor – furloughing state employees for several days and the use of coal severance dollars – don’t appear to have much support in either chamber and are unlikely to be in the plan. 

“I don’t think that will be invaded,” Williams said of coal severance fund revenues. 

Williams and Stumbo have also drafted a change to this session’s schedule that will push back the end of the session to March 27.

Also, the House and Senate won’t go into session the week of Feb. 16-20, which means those days won’t count against the 30 “working day” cap on this session, but legislative committees will still meet.

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