President Abraham Lincoln was an expert at negotiating and winning. He was also a brilliant orator, known for putting the most complex matters in the simplest of terms.
So when it came time for him to give advice about success, the 16th President’s response was brief but decisive.
“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm,” Lincoln is quoted as saying.
Those are words we lawmakers would be wise to follow in these final days of the 2018 Regular Session as the House and Senate work to reach middle ground on House Bill 200, the House budget bill that was amended by the Senate by a vote of 26-11 this week. Some parts of the House and Senate budget plans are quite similar: both would provide base per pupil funding for schools called SEEK, or Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, and both would fully fund the state pension systems.
The two plans would also beef up funding in areas of public safety and provide additional funds to a dozen or so struggling school districts that have been hurt by a loss in unmined mineral tax revenue. And both plans would cut most areas of state government by 6.25 percent, as recommended by the Governor as part of statewide-spending reductions.
But there are parts of the two plans that are very different. The House plan proposes more money for SEEK than the Senate’s, for one. And while the Senate plan would fully fund pensions, as would the House plan, the Senate plan would move around $1 billion from the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System to lesser-funded state pension plans.
The most striking difference between the two plans is in how they would be funded. The Senate plan does not include a couple of tax revenue sources approved by the House, including a 50-cent per pack increase in the state cigarette tax starting this July and a 25-cent per dose fee on opioids at the distribution level – both projected to raise an additional $377 million in state revenue over the next two years. Other revenue changes in HB 366 would add another $125 million over two years for a total of a round half a billion in new revenue though fiscal year 2020.
Now, these are just some highlights of how HB 200 has changed since the $22.5 billion spending plan was voted out of the House by a vote of 76-15 on March 1. Other changes were also made to the bill by the Senate that we in the House may, or may not, want to address as both chambers meet in so-called “conference committees” in this session’s final days to reach a budget agreement.
That said, we in the House are hopeful that we can find middle ground with our Senate colleagues on the needs of our constituencies across Kentucky. And we hope to find it quickly — specifically before the session veto recess scheduled to begin next Thursday — so that we as the Kentucky General Assembly can use our constitutional authority to override gubernatorial vetoes, should the need arise.
Also headed to conference committees this week after being amended by the Senate are the Legislative branch budget found in HB 204 and Judicial branch budget found in HB 203. Those bills, which passed the Senate by votes of 36-2 and 26-12 respectively, will need some more work before they, like HB 200, can be considered for final passage and possibly become law.
This budget work will consume most of our energy in the session’s remaining days, but there are some other measures that will also likely stay in play until session’s end. One of those is HB 428, which would set new rules for the handling of opioid overdoses.
The bill cleared the House 92-3 this week. Should HB 428 become law, it would require first responders in Louisville, Lexington and areas like Northern Kentucky — where at least two adjoining counties each have populations over 90,000—to immediately detain someone who has overdosed on heroin or other opioids and take that individual to a hospital or appropriate care facility. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Another bill gaining momentum is HB 185, legislation that would increase line-of-duty death benefits for spouses of police or other hazardous duty personnel in the state’s public retirement systems who were killed in the line of duty or died as result of injuries sustained on the job. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
We have four days left in this session per the current session calendar, with the last two days of the session – which could be used to override any gubernatorial vetoes—scheduled for April 12 and 13. While mid-April seems far away to many folks, it is coming fast to those of us serving in the General Assembly. There will be many long days and evenings ahead as we wrap up some very important work.
Regina Huff is the 82nd District State Representative.