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Ky. Senate Passes $20 Billion Budget: Cuts University Projects and Restores Operational Funding


The Kentucky Senate has approved its version of a two-year, $20 billion state budget.

The Senate voted  25 for, two against, and 11 pass votes on the budget Monday afternoon.

The senate plan restores operational funding for universities but cuts most capital projects on school campuses.  Senate President Robert Stivers says the decision falls in line with concerns about debt levels.

"Several of the universities said that they would prefer because of their ability and needs to use their basic budgetary items," Stivers said. "The other is the indebtedness factor and what it was going to do to our debt ratio." 

The Senate budget doesn't include borrowing $65 million for the Rupp Arena and convention center project in Lexington. Mayor Jim Gray says he remains "unshakably optimistic" and hopes for funding in the final budget.

"We're going to continue working just as hard for this project as the 'Cats did last night in St. Louis," Gray said. "This is all about jobs and all about economic opportunity for our city and for the whole state."

The House and Senate budgets differ in a number of areas.  The senate plan restores funding for higher education, but cuts out most projects, including those on university campuses.  Some $65 million for Eastern Kentucky University's phase two science building is not in the senate-approved budget.  

Richmond Senator Jared Carpenter hopes to see it back in the final negotiated budget. 

"We're still gonna work hard for it.  I've talked to President Benson, told him, I want him to continue working hard for it, that I'm not giving up on it.  Representative Smart isn't either.  We're gonna do all we can to help see if we can figure out a way to help that project be funded," said Carpenter.

Following the vote, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said his chamber's position is there will be more projects in the final budget product or none at all.  The speaker does believe agreement this session can be reached, saying 

"There's enough room in there we got a brief briefing on it."  He added, "I think there's enough room in there to negotiate what would be a reasonable compromise."

The Senate budget greatly reduces the debt level and puts money in for 24 state police positions in which retired officers are employed.  Minority floor leader R.J. Palmer expressed worries over flexibility on a teacher pay raise.  He believes it should be mandated.  The Winchester lawmaker also takes issue with language to keep universities from borrowing on their own for certain projects. 

The overall level of debt in the Senate budget is far below that contained in the House spending plan.  The Senate did not pass the revenue plan to pay for the $20 billion budget.  That is expected to happen Today or Tomorrow.

Stu Johnson is a reporter/producer at WEKU in Lexington, Kentucky.
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