By RONNIE ELLIS
In a last-minute surprise, Democratic state House leaders postponed a vote on the new two-year state budget Wednesday afternoon, but declared the delay was not due to a lack of votes.
The House was scheduled to vote on a $20.3 billion biennial budget that includes additional bonded indebtedness, sweeps about $300 million from restricted funds and uses a companion revenue bill with a couple of controversial tax measures.
Republicans had filed a series of amendments they planned to call during debate, which was expected to be lengthy and might provide fodder for campaign ads and rhetoric this fall when the GOP hopes to reverse Democrats’ 54-46 majority.
The House passed the revenue bill and voted on several non-budget bills before Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, announced the budget vote would be put off until Thursday. Afterward, both Adkins and Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, denied any concerns about having enough votes to pass the bill.
But Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Republican Whip John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, suggested Democrats might be reviewing their vote counts.
Hoover pointed to four Democrats who voted with Republicans on his amendment to leave unchanged Kentucky’s motor fuels tax, which normally rises and falls with the level of wholesale taxes. But the revenue bill would lock the rate in at December 2013 level of 30.8 cents a gallon, about 2.2 cents higher than if the tax were recalculated based on current wholesale prices.
Hoover’s amendment failed, but four Democrats — Dennis Keene of Wilder, Martha Jane King of Lewisburg, Steve Riggs of Louisville and Arnold Simpson of Covington — voted for it. One Republican, Jim Stewart of Flat Lick, voted with Democrats against the amendment.
The revenue bill then passed 53-44 with Simpson voting against it.
Democratic Whip Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, said there was no concern about having the votes to pass the bill.
“We’ve had a couple of members from both sides saying it’s such a huge document they’d like a little more time to look at it,” said Thompson. “So we’ll give them that time and come back in tomorrow and vote it out.”
Adkins subsequently said the same thing, that some lawmakers simply wanted more time to review the 252-page bill.
Thompson and Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, the budget chairman who sponsored the revenue bill, both said they could defend locking in the higher gas taxes because failing to do so would cost the road fund about $100 million, a little less than half of which goes back to counties for local road maintenance and improvements.
But Hoover argued that the last time lawmakers set a floor on the gas tax in 2009, they promised the public that they would allow the tax to fall — at least to the floor set in 2009 — as well as rise with wholesale prices.
Republicans are likely to make an issue of the tax in the fall elections, but Thompson said he can defend keeping the $100 million to repair winter-damaged roads.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.