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Politics & Government

What happens if Kentucky lawmakers don’t override Matt Bevin’s vetoes of budget and tax bills?

On Monday night, after Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin took the unusual step of vetoing the state budget and tax overhaul bills that lawmakers sent him, the Republican governor released a video on his Facebook page to express confidence that everything will be all right.

“We can do this. I’m confident,” he said. “We have time between now and the end of the fiscal year to get this right. We are Kentucky.”

For Bevin, “to get this right” means legislators will not override his vetoes when they meet Friday and possibly Saturday to wrap up the 2018 General Assembly. (The Kentucky Constitution says lawmakers cannot meet in regular session for more than 60 days, not past April 15 and never on Sundays.)

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The more likely outcome is that Kentucky’s GOP-led legislature will reject the pleas of the their Republican governor, but that scenario is not a given. To override Bevin’s vetoes on the budget and tax bills, legislators who voted for those measures will have to stand firm.

It takes a constitutional majority — a majority of members elected in each chamber — to override a veto by the governor. That mean 20 in the Senate and 51 in the House.

The vote last week in the House on the revenue measure, House Bill 366, was 51-44, with five members not voting. The Senate vote was 20-18. If only one of the 71 lawmakers who supported the bill waiver, Bevin’s veto will stand.

The House vote on House Bill 200, the budget bill, was 59-36, with five not voting. In the Senate, the tally was 25-13.

Some lawmakers are expected to face intense lobbying this week by the governor and special interest groups to change their votes. Many small businesses are upset by the tax bill, which helps pay for the budget by applying Kentucky’s 6 percent sales tax to 17 services and increasing the state cigarette tax from 60 cents to $1.10 a pack, among other things.

Among the services taxed are several dominated by small businesses, such as auto repair, veterinary care for small animals and dry cleaning.

If the legislature blinks and lets Bevin’s vetoes stand, he could call lawmakers back into special session to have a budget in place by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

So far, Bevin has never called a special session since he became governor in December 2015. His predecessor, Democrat Steve Beshear, called five in his eight years in office.

Taxpayers usually don’t care much for special sessions, which cost about $65,500 a day. With at least five days needed for the legislature to approve a bill, the final cost would top $325,000.

Lawmakers also like to have a consensus before a governor calls a special session to keep the work days to a minimum. Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda but the legislators determine how long it lasts.

If Bevin’s vetoes stand, Kentucky government would partially shut down on July 1 without a special session.

In 2005, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in a case involving then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher against then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo about the constitutional powers of a governor to continue operating government if the legislature fails to enact a budget.

The court ruled that the governor had the authority to continue expending funds in the absence of a budget only for federal mandates and services guaranteed by the state constitution, which include operating public schools and prisons.

Such a scenario has never arisen in Kentucky.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

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