By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. - A proposed budget compromise reached Friday night includes more than money. If enacted, it also would change public policy by eliminating a runoff primary election for governor.
House and Senate conferees decided the money required for a primary - perhaps $6 million - would be better spent on education, Medicaid and human services, Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Jody Richards said.
The negotiated budget will be presented to the General Assembly on Monday, the leaders said.
"It might not be the ultimate decision of the House and Senate," Williams said in a news conference with Richards. "But the conferees at the time felt like the cost involved (in a runoff) warranted a close look."
If the legislature goes along, "that was the reason and for no political reason whatsoever," Williams said.
Kentucky reinstituted the gubernatorial runoff more than a decade ago, but it has never been triggered. Absent a change in the law, a runoff would be required if no candidate slate got at least 40 percent of the vote in the May 20 primary elections. There are four slates each on ballots for the Republican and Democratic nominations.
But county clerks, who are in charge of local elections, weighed in with their fears that the sheer logistics of an extra election five weeks after the regular primary would be unworkable.
"We do not have a history in Kentucky of having runoff elections," said Richards, who is one of the Democratic candidates for governor. "The clerks were very concerned about having ballots printed, about having people to serve as judges. . . . And they also were very concerned - we were all concerned - about in late June being able to get people to the polls."
As for the rest of the proposed budget, which would appropriate about $15 billion through fiscal 2004, Richards and Williams gave few insights and fewer specifics. They said they had scraped up more money for education, Medicaid, health services and "various infrastructure" projects than either chamber originally proposed.
Richards also said the budget bill would require school districts to give pay raises to teachers but also would include sufficient funding.
Richards and Williams also said the budget contains money with which to complete renovation of the Lexington Center, which includes Rupp Arena, plus authorization for bonds to finance expansion of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.
The state put up $15 million for the $20 million Lexington Center project in 2000. Another $15 million was promised for 2002.
But state revenues plunged after work began, and Gov. Paul Patton omitted further funding from the budget he proposed in 2002. The project appears to be about half-finished.
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