Thursday, June 27, 2002

Patton defends new spending plan

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Gov. Paul Patton said he is on firm constitutional ground with the spending plan for next fiscal year he released on Wednesday.

        Services will continue without interruption and the courts will have to decide the underlying legal and probably even political issues, Mr. Patton said.

        Otherwise, ordinary citizens won't notice the difference in state government services and operations. “I think this is an inside-the-crosstown-connector type of game,” Mr. Patton said.

        The legal dispute was joined later Wednesday when state Treasurer Jonathan Miller asked Franklin County Circuit Court to determine if he can honor a request for payments by the Patton administration starting July 1, the first day of the fiscal year.

        “The real question at issue in this impasse is whether one chamber of the General Assembly can effectively repeal a major public policy by refusing to provide the funding necessary for its implementation,” Mr. Patton said.

        The policy in question is Kentucky's partial system of public financing of gubernatorial campaigns. Mr. Patton proposed, and the House concurred, in funding the program for the 2003 governor's race.

        The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, removed all funding for public financing. The disagreement meant no budget was passed for the executive or judicial branches.

        Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the GOP acknowledges Mr. Patton's authority to keep the government operating. But he said Mr. Patton will run into legal problems by trying to ignore or suspend certain statutes by his spending plan.

        For example, a state law requires a 5 percent annual raise for state workers, but Mr. Patton's plan has only a 2.7 percent raise.

        Mr. Williams said the GOP is also concerned that the lawsuit would produce a friendly settlement between Mr. Miller, the state treasurer, and the Patton administration. “We're very suspicious of the lawsuit,” Mr. Williams said.

        Lawmakers did pass a budget themselves.

        The spending plan released by Mr. Patton is virtually identical with the individual budgets passed by the House and Senate, but which failed to win final approval. The exception is that Mr. Patton expects to pay matching funds to gubernatorial slates that qualify for public financing.

        Mr. Williams blamed Mr. Patton and House Democrats for the failure to pass a budget on their insistence on money for public campaign financing.

        While much of the spending plan is speculative, there are pressing budget problems this year. Budget director James Ramsey said the newest projection for a revenue shortfall this fiscal year is $150 million, which is in addition to the $533 million already lopped off the budget to meet earlier shortfall projections.

        Mr. Ramsey said the shortfall will probably mean the state will have to take the last of the $120 million left in its rainy-day fund.

        The huge shortfall puts in serious question the accuracy of revenue forecasts for the coming year, which means the spending plan produced by Mr. Patton is probably already out of balance.

        Mr. Patton seemed unconcerned about the prospect. “Every budget that has ever been passed by the commonwealth has been based on an estimate that was wrong,” Mr. Patton said.

        If there are revenue problems again, Mr. Ramsey said the state will fall back on the cutback plans in statute.


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