FRANKFORT — Lawmakers on Monday afternoon began the lengthy process of hammering out differences in the budget bills passed by the House and Senate as a free conference began its work.

“We are undoubtedly in the most unprecedented times that I think anybody has ever seen,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told the panel, which is made up of members of both chambers and both parties.

He noted Gov. Andy Beshear submitted his budget to lawmakers based on revenue projections issued in December for the next two years, by the Consensus Forecasting Group, a committee of financial experts, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are things that occurred that no one could have foreseen in December,” Stivers said.  “I will go back to 9/11/2001.  Things happened, nobody expected that, and our budgets had to be drastically changed, based on the events that took place that day.”

“Those revenues (due to the coronavirus) will not be the same or close to the same that were projected,” he said. “We know that we are going to go into a downturn in our economy.  The discussions at the federal level about a $1.7 to $2 trillion stimulus plan wouldn’t be underway.”

Stivers said Kentucky’s huge service economy, which is based on social interaction, is impacted by social distancing being used to halt the spread of the disease.

“I think it will be incumbent upon us to engage as many people as we can of the Consensus Forecasting Group and the Administration, to come up with a more accurate projections, which may be substantially less than before what we have before us right now,” he said.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, echoed many of Stivers’ statements. 

“These are certainly times that will challenge us,” said the Speaker.  “They will require us to be creative, in some cases require us to be reactive.  I don’t think the best way to make policy is to be reactive policymakers, but I think that certain times demand that.

“There will be certain unknowns that may not reveal themselves for months and years to come, and in the case of what is being debated in Washington right now, may be even days to come.  These things are changing every single minute as to what we could be facing over the next several months anyway. 

“So I do think as we continue to watch the debates in Washington go on, as we continue to get information back from the State Budget Director’s office, certainly we are going to have to be reactive to certain things.  This is going to be unprecedented as we try to craft a two-year proposal that is both as accurate as it can possibly be, but also as responsible to the citizens of the Commonwealth as it can possibly be.”

Lawmakers are in recess, except for the conference committee, until April 1.  They will return for one day, presumably for both chambers to vote on the budget, then take the so-called “veto recess” until April 14 and 15, the final two days of the 2020 regular session.

The changes in the schedule means they will only meet for 53 days.  Under the Constitution they can meet as many as 60.

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