Thursday, June 27, 2002

Fight ends in budget impasse

Campaign financing dispute behind standoff

By Gina Holt
Enquirer contributor

        The state budget standoff is really about who foots the bill for the next occupant of the governor's mansion,local lawmakers say.

        During the 2002 General Assembly and a later special budget session, Senate Republicans insisted on eliminating public financing of gubernatorial campaigns in budget negotiations.

        Gov. Paul Patton and many Democratic legislators wouldn't agree to it. No budget was passed, and on Wednesday the governor by executive order implemented a spending plan mirroring the budget he offered earlier.

        “All of this is about the governor's race in 2003,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman James Callahan, D-Wilder.

        With at least seven names thrown around as possible candidates for the 2003 election and a 2-for-1 matching funds rate passed in 1992, a public financing plan looks costly.

        Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, said, “It could spiral into some enormous amount.”

        In order to obtain the state matching funds, passed by a General Assembly with Democratic majorities in each house, candidates must raise at least $327,514.

        “That (minimum) amount will be adjusted in January of 2003 for inflation,” said Mr. Callahan. “They only get matched on the legal contributions they raise.”

        In 1999, more than $1.3 million in state money was budgeted for each gubernatorial candidate.

        That's just a drop in the bucket compared to the money that could be raised and — by current law — matched for campaigns in a political showdown between seven or more members of a virtual Who's Who of Kentucky.

        Among those considering running are: the speaker of the Kentucky House; a U.S. congressman; the state attorney general, who is also grandson of former Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler; the son of former Gov. Louis Nunn; the lieutenant governor; the Jefferson County judge-executive; and a well-known Louisville businessman.

        Mr. Callahan said he's dismayed that Republicans waited until so late in the session to bring up this issue and will not budge on something that was passed 10 years ago. He said the GOP wanted to make a political issue out of the state budget.

        But Republican leaders said they tried to compromise and the governor wouldn't budge. “He (Patton) required a blank check for taxpayers funding political campaigns,” Senate House Majority Leader David Williams, R-Burkesville, said.

        “Taxpayers (under the public financing law) are required to give tax dollars to someone they may be opposed to,” said Mr. Fischer. “It's a violation of free speech.”

        Mr. Callahan said that the governor's reasons for supporting public financing of campaigns are more altruistic than partisan. “He is in favor of public financing because it keeps people from "buying the mansion,'” Mr. Callahan said. The majority of the candidates in the race will probably be Democrats.

        Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Crescent Springs, said he and others would like to have another special session in order to pass a budget, but the Senate does not want it to include public financing.

        He wants to deal with that later as a separate issue.

        “That's like saying my way or no way,” said Mr. Callahan.

        The current budget expires July 1.

        Mr. Fischer does not think — despite legal rulings — that Mr. Patton has the authority to take control of the budget.

        “He's effectively stepped into the role of the General Assembly,” said Mr. Fischer.

        “I'm sure there will be a lot of court challenges. The Republicans will challenge this, I expect.”

        It could be another nine months before the state has a budget approved by legislators.

        Mr. Patton's “spending plan will be in until 2003, when the legislation gets in there and figures this all out,” said gubernatorial spokesman Terry Sebastian.

        “For (Mr. Patton), it's a matter of operating the state. There has to be a budget in place or government shuts down.”


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