Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Still no budget, no resolution

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The political debate swirling around Kentucky's budget is heating up, while the court challenge that was supposed to clear up constitutional questions about the lack of a budget faltered Monday.

        Senate Republicans objected once again to a request by Treasurer Jonathan Miller for a quick resolution to the lawsuit. Sen. Dan Kelly, the GOP floor leader, said there is no need to rush and there may not need to be a decision before January, when the General Assembly is to convene again.

        No conclusions resulted from Monday's hearing, and another hearing was set for Thursday.

        Also Monday, House Democratic leaders put together a proposal they will make to the Senate on the issue of campaign finance, which continues to hold up any budget.

        House Democratic floor leader Greg Stumbo said the proposal will generally retain the system of partial public financing for gubernatorial campaigns in place since 1995.

        Mr. Stumbo said public financing is important to keep a lid on spending and to allow people of modest means to run for governor. Republicans have denounced public financing as failed and said it amounts to a “blank check.”

        The House proposal will not include an absolute cap on the amount that could be spent for public financing, but Democratic leaders are not opposed to such a cap, Mr. Stumbo said.

        Mr. Stumbo said the Republicans will have a choice to retain or reject public financing.

        “If the Republicans flat choose not to have one, they'll either pay the political price or benefit for checkmating government,” Mr. Stumbo said.

        Mr. Kelly, acting on behalf of Senate President David Williams, also objected to the entry of the court system into the case during a brief court hearing.

        Chief Justice Joseph Lambert has signed what amounts to an executive order to continue spending for the judicial branch, much like Gov. Paul Patton has done. Through a regular session and a special session, the legislature failed to pass budgets for the executive or judicial branches, though lawmakers passed a budget for themselves.

        After a brief hearing in Franklin Circuit Court, Mr. Kelly said there may be a conflict of interest for the courts to rule on the chief justice's actions. But Mr. Kelly said Republicans don't intend to challenge Justice Lambert's authority to keep the courts open.

        Meanwhile, the Kentucky Democratic Party has begun radio commercials that blame GOP senators for “endangering our well-being” and threatening to cause the layoffs of thousands of “teachers and other state employees.”

        The commercials are running in the Lexington, Elizabethtown and Louisville areas, where Republican senators have tough re-election campaigns. The commercials mention the Republican incumbents by name — Alice Kerr in Lexington, Elizabeth Tori of Radcliff, and Julie Denton and Dan Seum in Louisville.

        The commercials say Ms. Kerr, for example, “voted herself a guaranteed pay raise. She's getting paid, but Kerr refuses to ensure our teachers and state employees get paid.”

        The General Assembly managed to pass a budget for itself, which does include a pay raise for legislative branch employees and lawmakers.

        Mr. Williams is accused of “trying to block Governor Patton's effort to run out state's day-to-day business.”

        While Mr. Williams has sued to contest Mr. Patton's constitutional authority, he does not dispute Mr. Patton's power to spend on essential government services.


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