Lawmakers expected to focus on budget surplus during short session

By James Zambroski

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) -- Kentucky legislators met Tuesday to elect their leaders for the next two years and make plans for the 24-day session that begins in February. The short session, coming right before the Gubernatorial primary, is expected to focus on an expected windfall for the state treasury, and not much else. WAVE 3 Investigator James Zambroski reports.

With just a few exceptions, the major leadership players are expected to remain the same. Rep. Jody Richards will be re-elected Speaker of the House and Senator David Williams will be re-elected President of the Senate.

It'll be a short session -- 24 days, but it's likely to be long on ideas over how to spend a $200 million plus surplus.

Everyone agrees that the state has a revenue surplus this year. The question is: how big will it be and what should be done with it.

Richards says "the consensus forecasting group has not met and told us how much money we have. All of it, so far as I know is a guesstimate."

"A lot of people have talked about putting it in a rainy day fund," said Robbie Rudolph, Secretary of the Governor's Executive Cabinet. "Very few people have asked for a tax rebate."

"I think that agreement will be to reenact projects, both the university-funded projects and the general-funded projects which would only entail about $8 million," Richards said.

Although the general assembly meets for only 24 days this year, most House and Senate members have ideas on where the rest of the money -- up to $200 million -- should go.

Rep. Daryl Owens, a Democrat from Louisville's 43rd district, has some suggestions: "Boys Haven. We had some money that was cut. I think we had some zoo money that was cut, so those are things that are important to us from Jefferson County."

Rep. Jim Wayne another Democrat from Louisville, says "the pension as far as state employees is dramatically underfunded especially because of the health care costs."

Rep. Larry Belcher, a Democrat from Bullitt County would "like to see part of it go ensure the raises that we have for our educators."

With the Governor's primary just around the corner, this legislative term, commonly called the "short session," is more about maintenance than substance.

"Well, it's hard to get topics through that are controversial, that don't have a lot of support or that people aren't familiar with," said Senator Julie Rose-Denton, a Republican from Louisville.

Denise Harper Angel, a Democrat from Louisville, has already been busy. "Actually, I've pre-filed six bills and we'll be working them hard."

In the end, what gets done this session -- especially with any budget surplus -- depends on the leaders of both chambers.

The budget director does not think we have as much money as the governor seems to because we  get two different sets of figures," Richards said.

"If there is a surplus," said Williams, "and the surplus is projected, we'll be able to come back next year in the regular budget session and make those determinations."

Interestingly enough, most of the surplus money will wind up in a so-called "Rainy Day Fund" for unexpected state emergencies. The surplus is likely to be a big talking point for the governor in his bid to be re-elected. Democrats in both houses will try to steal some of that thunder and credit as the primary draws near.

Online Reporter: James Zambroski

Online Producer: Michael Dever