General Assembly may not take up additional bills this week

House leaders said today they plan to stick with House rules that reserve the final two days of the legislative session solely for dealing with overriding vetoed bills.

After a meeting between House and Senate leaders, Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Greg Stumbo both said the session could conclude without any action on remaining legislation, including a bill to revamp the state’s economic development incentives program and a proposal to create a transportation infrastructure authority to finance the state’s largest transportation projects.

From the Herald-Leader

Senate President David Williams said Monday that House leaders have told him that the Democratic-controlled House will only consider any vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear when lawmakers return to Frankfort Thursday and Friday to wrap up this year’s legislative session. The House does not plan to consider any legislation, Williams said.

So far, Gov. Steve Beshear has only issued one veto – a line-item veto of a portion of the road plan approved by the General Assembly earlier this month.

Stumbo left open the possibility of changing the House rules based upon the will of the caucus, which will meet Thursday.

Stumbo issued the following statement this afternoon –

“The 2009 Regular Session is widely considered to be one of the most successful in recent memory, and a key reason for that is because the House established clear rules at the outset – and then strictly followed them.  This approach gave a fair and open hearing to important issues of the day, and allows the legislature to act in a prudent and thoughtful manner.

“Our rules, and the calendar we adopted, provided for the last two days of the legislative session to be dedicated to vetoes and not for considering legislation.  Before we decide whether to suspend the rules, we will have to caucus, which we will do after the session re-convenes on Thursday.  If it is the will of the caucus to have such a suspension, we will go forward accordingly.

Update, 5:08 p.m.

Beshear issued this statement about the session this afternoon –

“We understand the position of House leadership and appreciate their willingness to get direction from the caucus on how best to move forward to complete what has been a productive legislative session so far. There is broad support in both chambers and in both parties for our economic development incentives package, for efforts to bring a NASCAR Sprint Cup series race to Kentucky, and for legislation that will, finally, pave the way to fund the Louisville bridges project. All of these initiatives will preserve and create jobs, while injecting hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact throughout the Commonwealth. We should move forward now to create those opportunities for our state and our people. In addition, there are remaining measures such as corrections reform that will create millions of dollars in savings in the midst of a challenging economic climate. All of these initiatives have garnered broad support and I hope that, together, we can find a way to move forward on these important issues.”

Road plan stalls over gas tax freeze

Work to pass a road plan and funding mechanism stalled Friday over a disagreement between House and Senate  leaders about when the legislation should be delivered to Gov. Steve Beshear.

Senate President David Williams said Friday morning during a press conference with House Speaker Greg Stumbo that he wants the governor make any vetoes in the road plan and sign it into law before the Senate passes a freeze of the state’s motor fuels tax.

House Bill 374 would freeze the motor fuels tax at its current rate and allow the state to use that revenue to borrow about $400 million toward the $1.2 billion transportation spending plan contained in House Bill 330. The tax rate is currently set to drop by four cents on April 1 without action by the legislature.

“If (the governor) signs the bill today, we’ll pass the four pennies,” Williams said. “If he doesn’t sign the road plan bill or he vetoes it, we won’t need the pennies.”

That’s not how Stumbo and many House members, who have already passed the road plan and the tax freeze, want to see the legislation move forward.

Stumbo said House members won’t want to send the road plan to the governor if the Senate hasn’t already signed off on the tax freeze.

“I think we’d like to see the Senate pass the pennies first,” Stumbo said. Continue reading

Stumbo lays out need for slots bill for committee

Perhaps laying the groundwork for a special session this summer, House Speaker Greg Stumbo made another pitch on Thursday to allow video lottery terminals at Kentucky’s horse racetracks.

Speaking to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and flanked by track owners, Stumbo told his fellow House members that the horse racing and breeding industry in Kentucky is facing insurmountable competition from other states.

“I believe that after you look at the facts and consider what’s happening to our state, it’s pretty obvious … that we are in jeopardy,” said Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat. “We have our sister states who are stealing, or trying to steal, not only our Kentucky dollars but our Kentucky signature industry as well.”

Passing such a proposal during special session this year is likely the only way to keep Ellis Park in Henderson open for another season of racing next year, track owner Ron Geary said following the meeting.

Geary said the track is losing horses to out-of-state tracks that are able to offer larger purses because they also have on-site slot machines like those being proposed by Stumbo’s House Bill 158.

Two Indiana tracks with slot machines have also scheduled meets this summer that overlap with Ellis Park’s traditional season that runs from July 4 to Labor Day to attract many of the horses and trainers that come to Ellis to race.

“We’re petitioning, we’re encouraging and we’re begging the governor and the leadership to consider a special session before June 30,” Geary said. “If they have to deal with other revenue shortfalls in a budget situation, this could be a solution to some of that.” Continue reading

Slots bill to receive hearing on Thursday

After a flurry of attention earlier this session, a bill that would allow video lottery terminals at Kentucky’s horse racetracks is set for another hearing Thursday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo (LRC photo)

House Speaker Greg Stumbo (LRC photo)

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters this afternoon that the hearing will allow lawmakers to become more educated about House Bill 158, but no vote will be called on the bill in the final days of this year’s session.

“We’ve always said that that bill needed some more vetting,” Stumbo told reporters. “The hearing tomorrow hopefully will bring to light some of the problems and/or facts associated with critical issues in that bill.”

Stumbo didn’t rule out the possibility that the measure could be included in a special legislative session held this summer, but said that decision is Gov. Steve Beshear‘s to make.

The bill is generating more interest late in this year’s legislative session, Stumbo said, and it is one of the things on the table as the General Assembly looks ahead to balancing next fiscal year’s budget.

“It’s being talked about more favorably now than it was in early January,” Stumbo said.

The announcement this week by Ellis Park owner Ron Geary that he may close the Henderson track next year has elicited more interest in the bill, Stumbo said.

“That’s pretty real evidence that this problem that our tracks are having is real and that it’s imminent,” Stumbo said.

The bill will be called during the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting which begins at 10 a.m. EDT.

Update, 5:22 p.m. …

Stumbo will be joined at the meeting by Geary, Nick Nicholson who is president and CEO of Keeneland in Lexington, and the Innovation Group, a national consultant on matters involving the gaming, leisure and hospitality industries, according to Stumbo’s office.

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.” Continue reading

Bits and pieces from Wednesday night

Here are a couple of quick observations and notes about Gov. Steve Beshear‘s address Wednesday night –

  • By my count, the audience broke out in applause 15 times during Beshear’s speech which ran just under 33 minutes. 
  • After the speech, Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican, paid tribute to former House Speaker Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat, for his service leading the House. Richards was unseated by Rep. Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, this year. Williams and Richards were at odds in recent years, but Williams thanked Richards for his service as the longest-serving House speaker in Kentucky’s history. The comments drew a standing ovation that lasted close to a minute. 
  • Planners for the speech seated next to each other at the front of the House chamber Wednesday state Auditor Crit Luallen and Attorney General Jack Conway, who have both been mentioned as possible candidates for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010. 
  • The speech was followed by a joint press conference by Williams and Stumbo, a preview of a weekly press conference to two will hold each Friday during the session. This revives the weekly joint press conference Williams and Richards used to have but which was done away with several years ago. 

    House, Senate leaders continue meeting about budget shortfall

    House and Senate leaders met yesterday to continue their discussion about the state’s $456 million budget shortfall. 

    This is the latest in a series of meetings headed by Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and few details about what’s being discussed are being shared, though those involved say the meetings have been productive. 

    “I will tell you I’ve never seen a time in my 20-something years in the General Assembly and my 10 years in leadership where I saw more sincere cooperation, negotiation and condor than we have right now,” Williams told reporters after exiting the 4-hour meeting in the Capitol Annex, according to an article by CNHI’s Ronnie Ellis.

    Leaders will be briefing the House and Senate A&R committees today, and will be meeting again on Monday, according to Stephenie Steitzer with the Courier-Journal. 

    Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort Tuesday to resume this year’s session, which has 26 working days remaining.