Saturday, April 27, 2002

Ky. House, Senate still far apart

Campaign finance blocking budget pact

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House and Senate remain miles apart on a budget bill because of the House's insistence on earmarking $9 million for use in next year's governor's race, a top leader said Friday.

        That appropriation was part of a budget bill the House passed Thursday. In a rarely used parliamentary maneuver, Democrats who control the House permitted no amendments to the bill and cut off debate.

        That stymied House Republicans, who had drafted amendments to repeal Kentucky's 10-year-old system of partial public financing and wanted to force Democrats into a public vote.

        Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the Senate would rewrite the House's bill to use the money instead to pay for raises for “classified” school employees such as teacher aides, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

        “At this juncture, there's overwhelming opposition to any funds” being used for campaign financing, Mr. Williams said in a news conference with House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green.

        The Senate did the same thing during the General Assembly's annual session — eliminating an appropriation for campaign financing and earmarking the money for education pay raises instead.

        “This has been a very good process for education,” Mr. Williams quipped. “Every time the governor or the House comes up with additional money for taxpayer financing of political campaigns, we've been taking that money and putting it over into education. And that's what we'll do this time, I believe.”

        The session ended April 15 without a budget being enacted. Gov. Paul Patton called the legislature back to Frankfort in a special session that began Monday.

        The General Assembly in 1992 enacted new election laws that included use of public matching funds in governor's races. The stated intent was to reduce the cost of campaigns, and with it the influence of large contributors.

        Candidates that accepted matching funds had to abide by spending limits. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that spending limits otherwise were unconstitutional.

        The 1995 race between Mr. Patton and Republican Larry Forgy remains the only campaign in which public money has been used.

        Mr. Patton said Thursday he would “not accept a budget that does not protect the integrity of campaign finance.” Asked if he would veto a budget devoid of money for campaign financing, Mr. Patton said: “I don't know how I could do anything different from that.”

        Among Democrats in the legislature, Mr. Richards, the House speaker, has been the chief defender of public financing. But Mr. Richards also has a vested interest. He plans next week to take the first formal step toward a gubernatorial campaign — forming an exploratory committee.

        Republicans, meanwhile, have whiled away the special session with daily attacks on public financing, which they call “welfare for politicians.” On Friday, with Mr. Richards seated beside him and television cameras rolling, Mr. Williams had his aides whip out a chart to illustrate that spending in the Patton-Forgy general election surpassed spending totals in the 1991 general election. However, the greatest spending that year was in the parties' primary campaigns.


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