Saturday, April 13, 2002

Budget talks over; rancor's not

House, Senate blame each other for finance impasse

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Budget negotiations between the House and Senate ended abruptly Friday, with both sides blaming each other and Gov. Paul Patton promising a special session at which he could be calling the shots.

        As it has from the beginning, the sticking point was Kentucky's system of partial public financing of gubernatorial campaigns. While the amount of money was relatively small — $9 million or so out of a $15 billion total General Fund — both sides said there was a principle involved.

        “They want a blank check for welfare for politicians,” said Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.

        House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said public financing, in place since the 1995 elections, has helped contain runaway spending. “I can't think of anything more fundamental in a democracy,” he said.

        Monday is the last day the General Assembly can meet in its regular session. The new fiscal year ends June 30.

        Mr. Patton said he will call a special session, perhaps as soon as April 22, and draft an agenda so narrow it will amount to an up or down vote on the budget he wants. Kentucky's Constitution gives only the governor the power to call a special session and the right to set an agenda.

        But House and Senate leaders agreed they were not sure Mr. Patton could draw a session call as narrowly as he promised, perhaps setting up a constitutional confrontation.

        Senate Republican floor leader Dan Kelly said the GOP would agree to leave $9 million in the budget for public financing, but no more. With perhaps six slates of candidates in two primaries, that would take virtually all the money.

        With no money for public financing, the general election would be conducted between candidates raising and spending money with no limits.

        House Democrats said the proposal from the GOP would have made other dramatic changes in campaign-finance law, such as quadrupling the amount of money a person could contribute to a political party, allowing a candidate to take more money from political action committees and doubling the current $1,000 cap on individual contributions to a candidate.

        The disagreement took on a markedly personal tone Friday after the budget conference committee broke up.

        Mr. Williams said Mr. Richards, a prospective gubernatorial candidate in 2003, is “blinded by his own ambition” and wanted to retain public financing to improve his own chances.

        Mr. Richards said support for public financing was strong among House Democrats and he was only reflecting their will.

        “Yesterday Sen. Kelly blamed it on the governor. Today they blame me. Who will it be tomorrow?” he said.


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