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Ky. lawmakers bring legislative session to an end

By Roger Alford

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 10:35 p.m. MDT

Kentucky state Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paduach, right, is hugged by retiring Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, after delivering a speech on the Senate floor about Shaughessy's 22-career in the chamber Thursday, April 12, 2012, at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. The Kentucky Legislature returned to the Capitol for the last session day to override vetoes and pass a road fund.

John Flavell, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers adjourned this year's legislative session Thursday without passing a measure that would have provided funding needed for a $4.5 billion highway appropriations bill.

The Kentucky House and Senate adjourned shortly before midnight without taking action on the measure, opening the door for a possible special legislative session to finish the job.

The House had given final passage to the appropriations bill Thursday evening. But without the companion bill from the Senate to provide the funding, the state can't make the appropriations.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the inaction could have widespread ramifications.

"The Transportation Cabinet closes down Jan. 1," Stumbo said. "Municipalities don't get their monies. Roads don't get blacktopped and built, unless something is done," Stumbo said as he left the Capitol.

Gov. Steve Beshear was expected to hold a news briefing early Friday morning at his Capitol office.

The House had passed a two-part, $10 billion appropriations measure on the final day of this year's legislative session. The initial round of appropriations, which passed 77-16 late Thursday, calls for $4.5 billion to be spent in the next two years to build roads and bridges across the state. The remainder, covering the following four years, passed 89-4 just minutes later.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, said the measure includes funding for the state's single largest project: $2.6 billion for two bridges across the Ohio River in Louisville. Harris said the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-led Senate agreed that project is a top priority.

The appropriations bill also includes $200 million to widen the heavily traveled Interstate 65, where numerous fatal traffic crashes have occurred in recent years. A crash on a rural stretch of the highway near Munfordville in 2010 killed 11 people, 10 of them members of a Mennonite family.

Beshear said the highway plan would not only improve the state's transportation infrastructure but also boost the economy.

"The Louisville bridges project is going to employ thousands of people over the next six, eight, 10 years," he said. "All of the different projects that are in there will put people to work. That money will then flow through our economy and be turned over many times through our retail establishments. So, it really is job creator."

The Senate had passed the appropriations bill without opposition earlier Thursday.

Budgeting has been one of the more time-consuming chores this year for Kentucky lawmakers, who passed the $19 billion state government operating budget in late March.

A slow economic rebound led to a lean state budget that forces sharp cuts on most government agencies, leaves employees without pay raises again and erases a planned cost-of-living increase from the monthly pension checks of retirees.

The measure calls for 8.4 percent cuts to most government agencies and programs because of lingering financial woes brought on by the recession. Those cuts will account for nearly $300 million in savings.

The latest budget will be especially difficult for agencies that have already cut spending by more than 30 percent over the past four years.

Beshear used his line-item veto power Wednesday to strike some provisions lawmakers had tucked into the budget, including $200,000 for an actors guild, $300,000 for a mystery writers festival and a handful of other earmarks.

Lawmakers scraped up funding for some high-priority projects, including $2.5 million to begin design work on a proposed renovation of Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky basketball team. They also agreed to pony up $3.5 million for improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park north of Lexington.

Lawmakers also passed Beshear's tax amnesty plan that he believes could collect a badly needed $55 million over the next two years. It would be the state's first offer of tax amnesty in a decade, and would forgive some penalties if people come forward and pay their taxes.

The legislation is House Bill 267 and House Joint Resolution 77.

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