by Kevin Wheatley –
FRANKFORT — For three Democrats and one Republican joining the House of Representatives in the session’s waning weeks, orientation will be more than moving into their Capitol Annex offices and finding their desks on the chamber’s floor.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday that the House will likely vote on its version of the $21.8 billion biennial budget the first day that newly elected representatives are sworn into office.
The State Board of Elections is set to certify results of four special contests in the 8th, 54th, 62nd and 98th House districts, of which Democrats won three to pad their majority to 53-47.
Stumbo, however, said House Democrats have asked Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to reschedule the certification meeting as early as Friday. That would give newly sworn-in lawmakers time to acquaint themselves with the Capitol and get a crash course on the House’s two-year spending proposal, he said.
“We’re trying to get them sworn in a day or two earlier just so we can kind of brief them, but … to get it over to the Senate by our target date, which is the 15th, they’re going to have to be quick studies,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
That would put the House on a Tuesday deadline for a floor vote, the same day of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee’s next regularly scheduled meeting.
The committee passed a series of budget bills on Tuesday, allowing the House to give each two readings ahead of a third reading and floor vote once the legislation is amended in committee. Republicans on the budget panel asked Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, for time to review and offer amendments to the budget bills once they return for a committee vote.
If Democrats vote en masse on the House’s version of the budget, earlier concerns of passing the legislation without a constitutional, 51-vote majority will be moot.
The budget has become social media fodder in recent days, with Gov. Matt Bevin starring in a video inside an empty House chamber on Monday as he tried to instigate public pressure on lawmakers in the lower chamber by insinuating that they’re not working on his spending proposal.
That prompted House Democrats to respond by pointing Bevin to the Capitol Annex, posting photos of closed-door meetings in conference rooms there. Bevin’s video and the Democrats’ response also sparked the hashtag #BevinSoLost on Twitter.
Stumbo reiterated Wednesday that the results of the special elections demonstrate that Kentuckians aren’t sold on Bevin’s budget, particularly cuts to higher education. The first-year governor has proposed 9 percent spending reductions in many areas of state government in order to deal with the state’s multi-billion-dollar unfunded pension liabilities.
“I don’t think there’s any question it’s a very popular issue,” he said. “If you just look at the green slips and you go home and you talk to people it’s pretty easy to understand that people are very much in favor of public education in Kentucky.”
Another aspect of Bevin’s budget on which the Democratic nominee in the 98th House District special election campaigned received some attention on Wednesday from a GOP lawmaker in the same area.
Democratic Rep.-elect Lew Nicholls’s campaign manager, Elizabeth Cantrell, said the former Greenup County judge focused some of his attention on a provision of Bevin’s budget that would repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, a boost in the labor-friendly district.
Republican Rep. Jill York, whose 96th House District neighbors the 98th, filed a floor amendment to the budget legislation that would remove the prevailing wage language.