Friday, March 24, 2000

Ky. budget divisions erupt

GOP opposes tax increase

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Kentucky Senate Republicans and House Democrats will try to put aside their differences over spending and pass a two-year state budget next week, leaders of both parties said Thursday.

        But the rancor between the chambers that has been anticipated since the General Assembly session opened in January erupted this week and set up a potential situation where the leg islature adjourns next week without passing a budget.

        “I don't think we'll get a budget,” said Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, one of the few Republicans who voted for the House version of the budget.

        “Right now the two sides are just too far apart. ... We're probably going to have to leave here, come back in a few weeks and try to hammer this thing out.”

        The Democrats, who control the House, have passed a budget that includes a telecommunica tions tax increase on items such as pagers, long-distance phone calls and cable and satellite TV. The increase will raise about $178 million over the next two years, money that will be used to pay for Democratic-backed initiatives and projects.

        About $9 million of the money will be spent in Northern Ken tucky on a variety of projects.

        But Senate Republicans are expected to pass a budget today that has neither the tax increase nor the projects. Republicans, who took control of the Senate for the first time ever last year, say they will not approve a tax increase.

        “People don't want to pay higher taxes,” said Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Erlanger, whose Kenton County district has several projects — including parks in Covington, Independence and Taylor Mill and a senior citizens center in Elsmere — in the House version of the budget.

        “Those are all good projects in my district, but I think we need to handle the state budget like my budget at home,” he said. “If you can't afford something, you wait until you can pay for it.”

        Leaders of both parties spent much of Wednesday and Thursday sniping at one another.

        At one point, House Speaker Larry Clark, D-Louisville, compared Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican blamed for shutting down the federal government a few years ago during a budget dispute with President Clinton and congressional Democrats.

        But by late Thursday afternoon, when there appeared to be a strong possibility the differences between the parties could produce a stalemate with no budget being passed, leaders took a more conciliatory tone and began talking compromise.

        Mr. Williams even called for detente during a Senate floor speech.

        “This is something we can work on and work out,” Mr. Williams said.

        But the differences are still stark.

        “The House will officially start negotiations Monday,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder. “From what I've observed, the Senate budget is very regressive. It does not move Ken tucky forward.”

        Safe for now is more than $20 million in new money and projects for Northern Kentucky University, including: $7.2 million increase in its state funding over two years; $12 million for a new power plant; $1 million for classroom renovations; and $700,000 to lease space for a regional workers' training center.

        NKU President Dr. James Votruba was in Frankfort Thursday, asking lawmakers to pass a budget before the session ends.


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