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Rhonda Miller, WKU Public Radio

A day after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin issued an order cutting the state’s current contribution to higher education by 4.5 percent, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said that move is illegal.

In a news conference late Friday afternoon, Beshear — the state’s top law enforcement official — told Bevin to rescind his order, which made the cuts to state colleges and universities. He said if the governor did not do so within seven days, his office would file suit.

“That is the exact type of power our democracy, our constitution, our liberty explicitly forbids,” Beshear said.

In a letter reducing the appropriation to higher education, Bevin cited a state law he said gives him the authority to make the cuts. The law forbids “allotments in excess of the amount appropriated to that budget unit in a branch budget bill” but says nothing about reduced appropriations.

A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky cannot bar a corporation from contributing to political campaigns while no such restrictions apply to other organizations like labor unions.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove on Thursday ruled that Kentucky Registry of Election Finance officials cannot enforce a law that prevented a non-profit corporation from making contributions. The judge found that it violated the constitutional right to equal protection under the law, as unincorporated businesses or organizations are not subject to similar prohibitions.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank, filed the lawsuit on behalf of a corporation that advocates for right-to-work laws. The company argued that unions are allowed to make contributions to push their side of the political issue, but they were forbidden from responding in kind.

The state can appeal the decision.

WKU

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has ordered immediate 4.5 percent cuts in state funding to all public colleges and universities.

The order comes as state lawmakers are locked in a stalemate over a two-year state spending plan. House and Senate leaders broke off negotiations on Thursday because Senate Republicans insisted on budget cuts for higher education while Democrats refused.

Bevin first proposed his mid-year budget cuts in January as part of a plan to cut state spending by $650 million and use the savings to begin to pay down the state’s public pension debt.

The House and the Senate did not include Bevin’s 4.5 percent mid-year cuts in their budget proposals. But Bevin, citing a state law that allows him to reduce allotments for executive branch agencies, cut their budgets anyway.

UPDATE: Budget Talks Have Broken Down In Frankfort

Mar 31, 2016
J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Legislative leaders in Frankfort say budget negotiations have broken down, putting a two-year spending plan in jeopardy.

Members of the House and Senate budget conference committee said Thursday they were unable to reach a deal. They have met privately for several days trying to reach a compromise in time for the legislature to approve the deal on Friday.

House Democrats insist they will not allow budget cuts for education. Senate Republicans say the cuts are needed to help pay down the state’s more than $30 billion pension debt.

J. Tyler Franklin

Thousands of Kentuckians have erroneously received letters notifying them that they would no longer receive state benefits like Medicaid or food stamps.

Meanwhile, access to the new state system that handles those programs has been restricted and service spotty in many instances, leading to long wait times, frustration and a loss of benefits for countless Kentuckians.

At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Matt Bevin and members of his administration acknowledged myriad problems with Benefind, which operates as the umbrella portal for Kentuckians to apply for nearly all entitlement services.

The administration also acknowledged it knew of problems with the system before its Feb. 29 launch. Many of those problems are detailed in a “defect guide” sent to state employees days before the system’s rollout and obtained by WFPL News.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

State lawmakers have once again called off budget negotiations, hoping to hammer out a compromise on Thursday.

Lawmakers met in small groups privately on Wednesday afternoon, but they provided no indication that they were any closer to an agreement by the end of the day.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, offered no details of which parts of the budget lawmakers still couldn’t agree on.

“We have some tentative frameworks established, and I think everyone will keep working hard towards a final product,” he said.

The last time lawmakers publicly discussed budget specifics, they clashed over how to start fixing the state’s ailing pension systems and whether to cut K-12 and higher education funding.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Lawmakers are still trying to produce a compromise budget to delineate $22 billion in state spending over the next two years.

Leaders from the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate have spent much of the last week trying to come up with a final version of the budget.

Partisan squabbling and disagreements over how to fix the state’s ailing pension systems and whether to cut higher education spending have complicated negotiations at the closure of the legislative session.

During a break in the closed-door budget conference committee meeting Wednesday morning, Senate President Robert Stivers was upbeat about the discussion.

“It’s been actually, probably one of the most productive one-hours I’ve seen,” he said.

Creative Commons

Kentuckians who have committed certain felony offenses would be able to clear their records under a bill that passed the state Senate Tuesday. The bill’s passage marked a milestone for the Senate, which has largely ignored the issue for more than a decade.

The new policy would apply to 61 Class D felonies, which constitute about 70 percent of Class D felonies committed.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, shepherded the bill through the Senate.

“You have the biggest-ticket items, the things that are the biggest impediments to the people being able to get back out there and find work, provide for their families, contribute to this commonwealth,” he said.

The list includes failure to pay child support, possession of a controlled substance and theft, among others.

Kentucky LRC

Members of the Kentucky House and Senate will not meet in session Wednesday, but budget negotiations will continue. After talks came to a standstill this week, leaders from both chambers decided to work on the spending plan Wednesday and likely Thursday, and then call members back into session on Friday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo was asked if this strategy would work. “If it doesn’t work, it won’t be because we didn’t try,” Stumbo said. “This is pretty normal in the closing days of a lot of sessions, there is a little bit of confusion. We are working very desperately to get a budget, very hard to get a budget.”

Both chambers remain divided on two key points: the Democratic House wants to restore proposed funding cuts to higher education. The Republican Senate wants to use money attained through reductions to address the state’s pension crisis.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is cautiously optimistic.

“Everything is in flux, but we’re not at a stalemate anymore,” said Thayer. “Conversations are cordial and I still feel like there’s a good chance we can come up with a compromise.”

Thayer said for a compromise plan to work, each side has to give a little. Neither chamber is scheduled to meet in session again until Friday.

J. Tyler Franklin

Lawmakers are back at the table after budget negotiations stalled Monday night amid deep differences over how to start fixing the state pension systems and how much money to cut from K-12 and higher education.

Tuesday morning, Gov. Bevin, along with Republican leaders of the House and Senate, held a formal press conference calling out Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo for delaying the budget process.

“There will be tremendous pain inflicted upon the people of Kentucky if the Speaker does not sit down and come up with a budget. It is up to him,” Bevin said.

Bevin accused Stumbo of “not taking this process seriously.”

House leaders later proposed the beginnings of a compromise plan. It includes some of Bevin’s proposals for the pension system, along with reduced cuts to education.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo is raising the possibility of ending the current General Assembly session without a state budget.

Conferees from both chambers and both political parties met in public session Monday. Afterwards, Stumbo said the two parties are philosophically ‘light years’ apart.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is not ready to say that agreement is unattainable.

"There's a long time between now and midnight on April 12, so I'm not going to make a prediction like that, but for now, we are definitely at a standstill," Thayer remarked.

If they cannot agree on a compromise budget, Stumbo says the governor could only spend money for public protection, education, and federally mandated items.

The governor would also have to call lawmakers into a special session before the end of June to try to adopt a state budget.

Cheryl Beckley, WKU PBS

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell makes no secrets about his desire to block President Barack Obama’s agenda at almost every turn.

The latest flashpoint is the President’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

McConnell says the Senate won’t hold hearings for Garland. It’s a position McConnell took almost immediately after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The senior Senator from Kentucky believes Mr. Obama should let the next President fill the high court vacancy.

That position has been blasted by Democrats, who say McConnell is ignoring the president’s constitutional obligation to put forth a nominee, and the Senate’s obligation to provide advice and consent.

McConnell sat down with WKU Public Radio Monday to discuss the Supreme Court and the presidential contest.

The former secretary of the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet has been charged with accepting bribes to hire a consulting firm for the state’s employee health plan, which the cabinet administers.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Lexington alleges Tim Longmeyer, who was until this week the state’s deputy attorney general, took more than $200,000 to persuade administrators of the state health plan — Humana and Anthem — to hire a consulting firm for public relations and focus group work.

The FBI also alleges he used his official position to steer work to a consulting firm in exchange for cash payments and contributions to political campaigns.

“A representative of the firm personally delivered the cash and conduit campaign contributions to Mr. Longmeyer,” U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey said in a press conference Friday.

Harvey refused to say which campaigns received contributions.

“We have no reason to believe that the candidates whose campaigns received the tainted funds were aware of the scheme or the illegal sources of the funds contributed to their campaigns,” he said.

The complaint alleges that the consulting firm was paid more than $2 million by Humana and Anthem.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

The Kentucky House of Representatives has officially rejected the state Senate's budget proposal and appointed a conference committee to work out a compromise.

The Democratic majority of the state House did not concur with the Senate's changes to the more than $65 billion two-year state spending plan. House Speaker Greg Stumbo appointed six Democrats and three Republicans to the conference committee. Senate President Robert Stivers appointed six Republicans and four Democrats to the committee.

The key difference between the two sides is the $650 million in proposed spending cuts from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Senate Republicans mostly support the cuts while House Democrats mostly oppose them.

The committee met Thursday night and is scheduled to meet again on Friday. Leaders from both parties say they hope to have a compromise by Wednesday.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

The Kentucky Senate passed a budget bill on Wednesday that contains most of Gov. Matt Bevin’s nearly across-the-board proposed spending cuts, including deep cuts to higher education.

The Senate budget also aligns closely with Bevin’s proposal to set aside money in the state rainy day fund and a “permanent fund” that Bevin says would be dedicated to shoring up the pension systems in the future.

Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee chairman Chris McDaniel said the proposal is “structurally balanced.”

“We have to address our current problems in order to be able to invest in our future opportunities,” he said. “There are no one-time moneys used for current expenses.”

Bevin proposed — with a few exceptions — cutting state spending in all departments by 9 percent over the next two years and 4.5 percent for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

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