In Depth: Budget Finger-Pointing In Frankfort

by Rick Howlett on April 28, 2010

By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky House and Senate leaders say the best way to end the state’s budget impasse is for Gov. Beshear to offer a new state spending plan. Beshear says he did that in January.

During the 2010 legislative session, lawmakers’ primary duty was to pass a new state spending plan. But when the session ended on April 15th, there was no budget. House and Senate leaders have met with Gov. Beshear to try to find a way out of the budget impasse, but continue to struggle for answers. Now, Gov. Beshear is warning of dire consequences ahead if a new budget’s not in place by July 1st, the beginning of the new budget cycle. Beshear says he cannot run the state with an executive spending plan, like two previous governors.

“The supreme court decision issued in the case of Fletcher v The Commonwealth, in 2005, makes it clear that only the General Assembly, and not the governor, has the authority to appropriate funds,” said Beshear.

Beshear fears the commonwealth is headed for a partial shutdown of state government. And he says that will mean more than just closing state parks. It also could mean no Kentucky State Police, no Medicaid, and no mine rescue or inspection teams.

“The federal law requires certain standards of safety as well as state law and we would have to review that to see – as a result of not having those teams – what would happen to the mines,” said Beshear. “I don’t know the answer to that question yet, but that’s part of what we continue to work upon.”

Beshear says a partial government shutdown could also stop the flow of state dollars to public universities.

“They might well continue to operate if they’ve got enough money absent General Fund monies, but each university gets a huge hunk of General Fund dollars,” said Beshear. “And we’re concerned that we will not be able to send them that money.”

Bottom line, says Beshear – the state needs a budget. He’s not choosing sides, but says House and Senate leaders need to reach a budget agreement so he can call a special session in May.

“We only have two choices – bad choices and worse choices,” said Beshear. “But it is time to make those choices. That’s what the people pay our salaries for. And it’s time for the legislature to come together and I will work with them in every way I can and let’s make those choices – get a budget in place so that we don’t at least see the kind of results that will happen if we don’t have a budget.”

But House Speaker Greg Stumbo wants the governor to take the lead.

“If history tells us anything, it tells us that when a governor presents a budget, about 98% or 99% of it is agreed to by the two chambers,” said Stumbo. “So, all I’m saying is, if the governor really wants to get over the impasse, it seems to me the logical thing to do is to present us with a budget based upon current revenues and he can make it a biennial budget if he wants to.”

Senate President David Williams agrees.

“We’re here,” said Williams. “I’ll continue to be here to try to work through this thing. But the governor – is he doing the Solomon bit here? You know, I’m gonna cut this baby into if nobody claims it. Let him propose a solution to this thing. Let him propose another budget.”

But Gov. Beshear doesn’t appear inclined to go there.

“As governor, I did my constitutional and statutory duty in January by presenting a budget that was balanced, that continued to reduce the size of government and reduce our expenditures, but did create some recurring revenues from slots at the tracks,” said Beshear.

So, where is all this headed? That’s the $64,000 question, because special sessions cost that much per day. And a special session without a prior budget agreement could run on for days, even weeks, putting even more strain on limited state finances. Gov. Beshear is hoping the “cataclysmic impact” of a partial budget shutdown will help legislative leaders narrow their focus on possible solutions.

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{ 1 comment }

Jay R April 29, 2010 at 6:09 am

And you wonder why people have such low opinion of elected officials anymore.

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