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Council to Consider U of L Tuition Hike Request

University of Louisville President Dr. James Ramsey says he expects the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education to approve U of L’s request for a six percent tuition hike that would take effect next academic year.

Ramsey says for more than a decade now, his and other public institutions have had to find ways to offset annual cuts in state funding, and for the third straight year, U of L is seeking a six-percent tuition increase, the maximum allowed by the council.

He says to soften the financial hardship on students, the institution is trying to raise more funds for tuition and other assistance.

“The biggest item of our capital campaign that we’re raising money for is scholarships and student financial aid. So we are raising more money for that. We’re trying to do other things and generate other revenue sources,” he said.

The Council on Postsecondary Education will consider tuition hike requests from U of L and other schools tomorrow in Lexington. U of L’s increase must still be approved by the board of trustees finance committee next month and the full board in June.

Ramsey presented the university’s proposed budget to students, faculty and staff today.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Beshear Orders Two Percent Cuts to State Spending

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is ordering most state agencies to cut their budgets by two percent for the current fiscal year, but that will not be enough to close a $190 million budget shortfall.

The decision was announced by State Budget Director Mary Lassiter at a joint budget committee meeting Tuesday. The plan will not include furloughs for state employees as the governor previously ordered, but it could mean agencies deciding to laying off workers.

State lawmakers mandated the governor make the cuts in this year’s budget, but the additional 2 percent cuts will save only $29 million. Several of the cuts are being made to “non-priority” programs since the administration has exempted the Department of Corrections, Medicaid, public schools, state universities and student financial aid.

Lassister told the committee another $60 million in savings will come from funds that were originally appropriated to meet debt service on building projects that will not be needed. Another $75 million is anticipated to come from a revenue surplus, but lawmakers are still concerned that additional cuts will have to be made during the General Assembly next year.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Beshear Hocks Two State Airplanes on eBay

If you’re in need of a twin-engine 1975 Piper Navajo or a single-engine 1967 Cessna Skyhawk, the state has a deal for you. Going once, going twice …

From the governor’s office:

Governor Steve Beshear today announced plans to sell two aircraft from the Commonwealth’s air fleet as a part of his ongoing Smart Government Initiative.

Selling the aircraft is a cost-saving action the governor will take as a result of SGI, a top-to-bottom yearlong examination of state government operations and processes to find additional opportunities to save taxpayer dollars and make state government more efficient.

“Today I to continue my efforts to make Kentucky government efficient and lean by putting these two planes up for sale on eBay,” said Gov. Beshear. “However, this is about more than selling these two planes. Since taking office, I have cut more than a billion dollars out of the state budget, and created the smallest state government in a generation. In the coming months, I will continue to announce further efficiency measures developed by my Smart Government Initiative in order to ensure the smartest use of taxpayer dollars.”

Sold!

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Farmer Brushes Off Voluntary Furlough

Across the commonwealth this month, state workers will take the fifth of six mandatory unpaid days except for Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, who won’t participate in furloughs because he doesn’t agree with them.

Statewide elected officials are prohibited from changing their salaries, but all have said they will write personal checks for a day’s pay to give back. But not Mr. Basketball, who earns over $100,000 annually.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

“He doesn’t agree with it, the whole furlough concept, philosophically,” spokesman Bill Clary said. “If it had been up to him, he wouldn’t have asked any employees to take a furlough. So he’s not going to participate.”

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Local News

Budget Talks To Resume In Frankfort

By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

After five days of off-and-on, closed-door negotiations, Kentucky’s legislative leaders are still searching for a final agreement on a new biennial state budget.

Going into the talks, House and Senate leaders were shooting for an agreement by Sunday, but when negotiators went home last night, no agreement was announced. Is there a problem?

“I wouldn’t say that there’s a deadlock at this time. We’re just, again – there’s some work being done between the respective chairmen’s in Transportation, some other issues being discussed. And our two A&R chairmen’s and our respective heads of the chambers will talk (Monday) morning,” said Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers.

The House and Senate passed different versions of a new biennial state spending plan, and it’s up to the conferees to find common ground. The 10-day, veto recess is scheduled to start Wednesday, but if need be the legislative calendar can be adjusted to allow negotiators more time. At this point, there are still four days left in the session.

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Local News

Kentucky General Assembly Enters Tenth Week

By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

The 2010 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, which began on January 5th, is entering its final few weeks.

After passing a revenue bill last week, the House this week will pass the appropriations bill that determines how the revenue will be spent. Then, the Senate will weigh-in. With one exception, House Republicans voted against the revenue bill’s heavy reliance on accelerated sales tax collections and suspension of business tax breaks. Will their stance affect how Senate President David Williams approaches the revenue bill?

“I didn’t get an opportunity to listen to what the House Republicans had to say about it, but obviously, just philosophically, you can make a general statement that Republicans are usually more reticent to support increases in taxes,” Williams said Friday.

House leaders spent six weeks building a budget from the ground up after rejecting Gov. Beshear’s spending plan based on casino gambling revenue. The House and Senate now have three weeks to reach consensus on a final budget plan.

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Local News

Kentucky House Panel Approves Revenue Package

The revenue package that will help support the budget shaped by Kentucky House leaders has cleared the chamber’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

The package, which would raise an estimated $321 million over the biennium, passed 17-11. The bulk of the money will come from the business community, but budget chairman Rick Rand of Bedford makes no apologies.

“The last place we went was business. And I’m a little bit disappointed that they haven’t come to us with any solutions. We met with the Chamber and other interest groups today and I asked them, If you don’t like this, bring us a solution.”

How the money will be appropriated will be in the budget bill, which is still being drafted. Committee action and a House floor vote on the budget is expected next week.

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Local News

House Leaders Continue Work On Budget

By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky House leaders worked over the weekend to try to put the finishing touches on the state budget.

After meeting with university presidents Friday, Speaker Greg Stumbo said House leaders would try to find more money for higher education. In the House budget outline released 10-days ago, university budgets were cut two percent the first year and flat-lined the second.

“We’re hoping to put money back in both of those years. It’s harder the second year because there is more money, but we’re going to try to do something,” Stumbo said.

Stumbo says a budget bill should be ready in the next day or two, and he still hopes the House can vote on the spending plan sometime next week. There are 23 days remaining in the 2010 session.

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Local News

Budget Talks To Intensify This Week

A new state budget remains the major focus of Kentucky lawmakers, as the 2010 legislative session enters its sixth week.

House leaders want to move the budget from their chamber by early March, so efforts to craft an acceptable state spending plan are intensifying. House and Senate leaders are already sharing vital information, which is healthy, says Senate President David Williams.

“It’s not unusual for the Speaker and I to meet during the session and talk about process. That’s not unusual. And I think it’s even less unusual for the two budget chairs to meet and talk about process. Somewhat unusual that the four of us would meet this early in the session. But I think this is an unusual session and I think it bodes well,” Williams said Friday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo hopes to make some budget outlines public later this week. Legislative leaders have already rejected Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget plan based on casino gambling revenue.

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In-Depth News Local News

In Depth: Beshear Unveils Budget Plan

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear wants to use revenue from casino-style gambling at horse tracks to balance the state’s next biennial budget. Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh has the story.

In the days leading up to his budget address, any time Gov. Steve Beshear was asked if he would include gambling dollars in his spending proposal…

“My answer, each of those times, was the same,” says Beshear. “Everything, everything is on the table.”

But when it came time to deliver his speech, Beshear said his analysis of funding options is over and the conclusion is clear.

“Gaming revenue is the only practical option to begin funding long-term priorities with recurring revenue,” says Beshear.

The governor’s new, two-year spending plan relies on $780 million in revenue from video lottery terminals at horse tracks. And while protecting basic school funding, higher education, health care and public safety, the budget also requires 2% cuts in many state agencies to raise another $78 million. And Beshear warns against using cuts alone to balance the budget.

“The cuts to the rest of government won’t be 2% over the biennium,” says Beshear. “Instead, those cuts will be over 12% in the first year of the biennium and 34% in the second year, compared to the current year. And that’s on top of the 20%-to-25% in cuts that many of these agencies have already experienced in the last two years.”

What about a second round of federal stimulus dollars? Is that a possible solution to the state’s $1.5 billion dollar deficit?

“My budget office is monitoring that situation very closely,” says Beshear. “But the bottom line is, we cannot control what happens in Washington, and thus my budget doesn’t count on that money.”

And for those who say broad-based tax increases could be a new source of recurring revenue, Beshear says that’s a road he’s not willing to travel.

“That would accomplish the exact opposite of what we need during these difficult times,” says Beshear, “by increasing the burden on the very people and the very businesses that we’re relying on to grow us out of this recession.”

So, for Beshear, casino gambling is the state’s best source of new revenue. And he wants lawmakers to approve a bill similar to the one that passed the House last summer, but died in Senate committee.

“The only difference in the content of this year’s bill and the House bill of 2009 is where the revenue is allocated,” says Beshear. “I propose bringing the revenue into the General Fund to help balance this budget and fund our priorities.”

Sponsoring the new gaming bill is Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley. Can it pass the Senate?

“Well, you know, until something’s brought to the floor of the Senate, we really don’t know exactly what can pass there,” says Worley. “We have said for a long, long time, if you bring the statutory amendment to the floor of the Senate, we believe the votes are there to pass it. I’ve been told, on both sides of the aisle, of people who will vote for that bill who then the leadership says that they won’t. So, we’ll just have to see. If something gets to the floor of the Senate, we can count the votes.”

The governor’s budget proposal disappoints Republican Rep. Danny Ford.

“The General Assembly had not approved expanded gaming in the past and I’d thought we could move beyond that and it looks like we haven’t,” says Ford.

And Democratic Rep. Fred Nesler just wants to get down to work on the budget.

“We’ll look at it, dissect it, tear it up, put it back together, hopefully make a decent budget to send down to the Senate,” says Nesler.

Lawmakers now have 50 days to try to reach a final budget agreement.