Before the General Assembly adjourned April 15, the House and Senate were brimming with lawmakers. The next day, the chambers were empty. The reduction in brainpower and political courage was nil.
In a disgraceful failure, the legislature was unable to reach compromise and pass a two-year state budget. That’s the most important job the legislature has, and it had 60 working days in which to do it. Now Gov. Steve Beshear must call lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special session to pass a budget. That will cost $60,000 a day. If a budget isn’t enacted by June 1, it could prevent the state from saving tens of millions of dollars by refinancing bonds in June.
Yes, this has happened before. The 2002 and 2004 sessions failed to pass budgets, too, and new fiscal years began under executive spending plans — the first by Gov. Paul Patton, the second by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. But since then, the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that a governor lacks the power even to make emergency appropriations, so a severe curtailment of state services would likely take place July 1 if no budget was in place.
It’s all as unnecessary as it is grotesque.
Senate President David Williams and his lieutenants may be right that accepting the House leadership’s off er of a one-year continuation budget would have run the risk of heaping particularly draconian cuts into the second year of an eventual biennial budget.
But the Senate decision followed its refusal to accept House measures to raise about $275 million through a business tax adjustment and accelerated collection of the state sales tax. Mr. Williams and crew called those steps tax increases — a finding that raises the politics of reflexively opposing all tax hikes to the level of an obsession — and made clear that even deep cuts in areas such as education and Medicaid would be preferable. How that kind of thinking best serves the long-term needs of the people of Kentucky — as opposed, say, to the short-range interests of the Republican Party — remains a mystery.
Of course, there was a better plan all along — Gov. Beshear’s initial proposal to raise about $780 million through expanded gambling. But Sen. Williams — deaf to the pleas of some in his own GOP caucus and to leaders of the horse industry, many of whom are Republicans — wouldn’t hear of it, and the House declined to take action without assurances that the Senate would also vote on the measure.
So there you have it. There’s no budget, no blueprint for making needed cuts, no means to raise new revenue, no relief for the state’s beleaguered horse industry.
But legislators can now get down to doing the one thing that really matters to them — running for re-election.
The Kentucky General Assembly’s inability to perform its main job in the session just concluded —— to pass a state budget — was certainly its biggest failure. Not only did lawmakers throw dirt all over the early proposal submitted by Gov. Steve Beshear, they crowed they could do better. Three months later, they produced nothing in the budget department.
Now that the dust has settled from the General Assembly’s collapse of purpose, there are other deficiencies of the late session to visit as well.
Yes, the lawmakers did manage to pass some important laws regarding domestic violence and driving while distracted, but a Sunday news story in The Courier-Journal
rounded up other important bills that didn’t become law. More disgrace:
Kentuckians ought to wonder why legislators couldn’t figure out a way to come together on efforts to shore up the state’s unemployment insurance program, which is swimming in red. The Governor had convened business and labor leaders in a task force, and they had managed to agree on a plan — but the Senate said it needed more time to study it.
Citizens also ought to wonder why lawmakers didn’t think raising the high school dropout age from 16 to 18 years of age was a wise move for Kentucky’s young people and for the state’s future. A seeming no-brainer was scuttled by the Senate again, because senators said it didn’t also include funding for programs for at-risk students.
And, after the state placed a lethal first nationally in numbers of abuse and neglect deaths among its young, citizens of Kentucky also might wonder why bills to start a pilot program to open family court (supported by the Chief Justice of Kentucky) and to create a panel to review reports of children killed by abusers also failed to muster enough support to become law.
The court bill died without a hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel bill was sunk in the House when Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, attached an unrelated, anti-abortion amendment to it (a stunt he pulled numerous times), and House leaders killed the legislation rather than force a full House vote on an amendment that didn’t make it out of committee.
Kids paid again when a bill, supported by law enforcement, to attach a misdemeanor and some education for teen “sexting” instead of using harsher laws on the books to prosecute pornographers, didn’t meet Senate standards. They didn’t think it was harsh enough.
Once again sticking it to the state’s struggling (and signature) horse industry, House and Senate leaders wouldn’t even countenance a bill that would have allowed Instant Racing, an electronic game based on racing, at the state’s race tracks — where gambling already takes place.
Take a bow now, legislators. Many of you deserve to get the voters’ hook in the fall for this shoddy performance.
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville