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Don’t waste time on divisive issues




As lawmakers gather in Frankfort for the beginning of the 2008 session of the General Assembly, the feeling in the air is of excitement and possibilities. That’s the way it always is when a legislative session starts.

The question is, what will be the mood in February, March and April, when the actual work has to be done? Will the new Democratic governor, the Democratic House and Republican Senate be working together? Or will they be locked in the kinds of power struggles and partisan fights that can make capitols look more like sites fit for a World Wrestling Federation smack-down than for responsible public discourse?

The need for cooperation is absolutely the first priority this year – bigger than any single public policy issue, such as pension reform, expansion of gambling and funding for bridges, higher education and everything else. After all, if Republicans and Democrats don’t work together, it will be hard to deal with those issues, or anything else. And obviously, the commonwealth can’t afford that in these changing times and in this very competitive era – especially starting as far behind as Kentucky generally does.

The situation in Frankfort this year holds other challenges, of course. A year ago, Kentucky had a governor who bragged about revenue surpluses and traveled around asking voters how to spend all the extra money. This year starts with the sobering news of a $300 million or so revenue shortfall and the need for immediate, across-the-board, 3 percent budget cuts – including the budgets of state universities.

And so another big challenge will be to discern the best ways to keep Kentucky moving ahead. That means being willing to look at creative strategies for paying for bridges, for enticing experts in science, technology, engineering and math into classrooms, and for building a bigger permanent revenue stream.

What Kentucky doesn’t need this year is for lawmakers to get sidetracked by polarizing social issues. That’s always a danger in an election year.

Worthless battles could be fought over domestic partner benefits for state university employees and over cracking down on illegal immigrants. But the legislature has no business micro-managing University of Louisville or University of Kentucky personnel policies. And it shouldn’t waste time on an issue that is in the domain of the federal government.

This could be a great year in Frankfort. Challenges like those the state is facing present opportunities for a heroic show.

This year, it’s critical that the players are up to it.

– The Courier-Journal, Louisville


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