FRANKFORT -- Two key state senators expressed strong reservations Wednesday about the University of Louisville's request for a $50 million state loan needed to help finance the university's plan to acquire Jewish Hospital and other KentuckyOne Health assets.

"At this point, I don't support doing what they're asking to be done," said Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Taylor Mill Republican who chairs the Senate budget committee. "You have a struggling hospital buying a failing hospital, and I think that this is a very bad idea."

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican, said a $50 million loan "is a lot of money for a cash-strapped state ... a lot of money for a state that has a multibillion-dollar pension debt. I don't know if the support is there (in the legislature) to do it or not. I'm not saying there is; I'm not saying there isn't."

The senators made their comments in separate telephone interviews Wednesday morning after the university board of trustees approved the plan but before Gov. Matt Bevin's office released a statement endorsing it as a mechanism for preserving more than 5,000 jobs.

The release from Bevin's office included endorsements of the deal from the state's top two legislative leaders: Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect.

"I am personally supportive of the proposed plan and look forward to addressing this ongoing issue during the next regular session," Stivers said in the news release.

The release said Osborne will personally file the legislation, and it quoted Osborne as strongly embracing the deal.

"Under this plan, we can not only avoid disaster, but create a bold new chapter with long-term health, education and economic benefits," Osborne said. He also said the plan has the support of a member of House minority leadership, Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively.

At a press conference at U of L Wednesday morning, Osborne said he has not counted votes yet in terms of ensuring enough support exists in the House and Senate to pass the forthcoming bill, but expressed confidence.

In an interview earlier this week, U of L President Neeli Bendapudi noted the university is going on faith that the legislature will come through and provide the approval needed to make the proposed $50 million state loan happen.

"As you can imagine with this, it is risky because it's a promise from the legislature that they will introduce it in their regular session in January 2020," she said, but added she believes lawmakers recognize what's at stake in terms of jobs and economic development.

She also said she recognizes the university will take on a big challenge by buying Jewish Hospital and expects to lose money during the first couple of years. However, she expressed confidence in the ability of the team the university has put together at U of L Health to turn things around at the financially struggling hospital, especially in light of the recent success it's had with improving the fiscal circumstances at U of L Hospital.

Bevin also acknowledged during Wednesday's press conference that buying Jewish Hospital and these other health care operations is risky. However, he said it's a calculated risk.

And it's one that has the support not only of Osborne and Stivers, but also of a few other legislators who spoke briefly at the press conference, including state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and state Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville.

McDaniel and Thayer each said in the interviews that they need more information about the deal and the request being made of the legislature.

But both emphasized the state budget that lawmakers must approve during the 2020 session will be extremely tight, largely because of huge appropriations required to deal with the more than $42 billion in unfunded liabilities within the state's retirement plans.

"We're going to have a lot on our plate, and it's going to be a matter of looking in every corner, and a new request for what's likely to be several million dollars over the biennium, at least, is tough," McDaniel said.

The budget committee chairman questioned whether the deal will work.

"I've spoken to hospitals from across the state, and universally they have said this is a very bad idea. And, universally, they think that Louisville will be probably be back to the General Assembly within five years asking for additional funding," he said.

"It's bad fiscal discipline to bring this to us, and frankly the timing seems suspicious for them to run out just before a gubernatorial election waving their arms about a situation that's been developing over the past five or six years -- that they're going to go under, and lose all these jobs, and people not having access to emergency rooms," he said. "While I applaud them for trying to do something, I think they have the wrong something here."

Thayer said no attempt has been made yet to poll senators on their support for the request. "It's just too early. I just found out some of the basic details a few days ago. I haven't talked to any of our members. We haven't even had a total discussion on it in our leadership groups."

Thayer said, "Everything is driven by the pension requirements, and I'm for fully funding the pensions, and we have to see how much that's going to cost before we can commit to any new spending or in this case a loan. I think this is probably a worthy cause, but I'm just not willing to commit."

(0) entries

Sign the guestbook.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.