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State budget talks off to rocky start

By RAE HODGE Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Kentucky budget talks got off to a rancorous start Saturday as House and Senate leaders deliberated the potential renovation of Lexington's Rupp Arena.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, called upon House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, to allow Lexington Mayor Jim Gray testify before the General Assembly's budget conference committee on whether or not the state should throw its support behind the renovation of Rupp Arena. The aging arena is host to NCAA tournament games, basketball games and conventions.

Gray was allowed to testify and was peppered with questions about how the city of Lexington intended to pay for the project, estimated at $310 million.

While there is currently no signed agreement with the University of Kentucky on the use of Rupp Arena, Gray said the university has verbally committed to a 30-year lease. He added that money for the Rupp project will be included in Lexington's budget, which will be released on April 8.

"This is an extraordinarily strong, solid, conservative plan," said Gray "The city is willing to back this project entirely." However, Rupp Arena renovations would require the state to approve and back $65 million in bonds.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, expressed concern over the possibility of getting the state involved before Lexington's city budget has been approved.

"As of today, as we sit here, the city of Lexington has no budget which appropriates money for this project," said Hoover.

When asked what other funding sources Lexington would use to support the project, Gray said that the project had as many as 18 funding sources including the university and the city of Lexington.

Gray assured committee members that, despite a tentative city budget, financial support would be available and risk to the state would be minimized.

"We will guarantee that the state will not be asked for any more," said Gray.

The state's Budget Conference Committee is expected by members of both chambers to continue through the weekend.

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