Senate offers $1.6 mil cut

Kentucky’s Senate approved its own version of the 2008-09 budget, one that would require higher-education institutions to eat a three percent cut in state funding.

Northern Kentucky University would stand to lose $1.6 million on top of the $1.6 million it lost when Gov. Steve Beshear enacted a three percent cut for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Kentucky lawmakers are facing a shortfall of approximately $900 million over the next two fiscal years starting July 1. That’s on top of an approximately $434 million shortfall this year.

Gov. Beshear proposed an approximately $18.7 billion budget proposal that called for 12 percent cuts to various state agencies, government programs and public universities. Beshear proposed raising the state’s tax on cigarettes by 70 cents a pack and approving a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling.

House lawmakers, seeking to close the gap, approved a nearly $19 billion budget proposal with a 25 percent hike in cigarette taxes.

The Senate approved its own version March 24 that relies on releasing up to 2,000 nonviolent felons to save more than $50 million. It passed on a 36-2 vote, sending it back to the House for consideration. House lawmakers subsequently voted against the Senate changes, setting the stage for negotiations between the two chambers later this week in a conference committee.

That committee, Assistant Director for Government and Community Relations Katie Herschede said, will likely not reach an agreement as it can only alter spending already in the budget.

Instead, the compromise would happen in a Free Conference Committee, where legislators could add or remove aspects of the plan.

The major difference between the two houses’ bills is the funding for higher-ed, said Vice President of Government and Community Relations Joe Wind. The House version, he said, restored all 12 percent Beshear had removed. The Senate’s budget, however, grants only nine percent.

Joe Szydlowski and Associated Press Writer Joe Biesk contributed to this report.