Sunday, March 16, 2003

N.Ky. lawmakers get along, sort of


Kentucky Politics

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FRANKFORT - Lawmakers in Northern Kentucky's statehouse caucus used to get along together about as well as America and France.

If the Dems said yes, the Republicans said no.

If the House said white, the Senate said black. It went back and forth like this for the better part of a decade.

But it's a new day in Frankfort.

In the legislative session that ended last week without much getting done, Northern Kentucky legislators finally came together to get something done.

It took until the very last day that bills could be passed for the legislature to approve a measure that paves the way for two high-profile economic development projects in Northern Kentucky - Newport on the Levee and the Hofbrauhaus beer garden - to receive tax breaks.

The breaks, which total about $11.25 million, will allow the levee to expand and help the developers of the Hofbrauhaus to pay for their development.

But it wasn't pretty, and it wasn't easy.

There were major battles over how the bill should be filed, who would get the credit, how the legislation would be drafted, how and when it would be voted on. In other words, it almost didn't get done.

Still, getting anything done in Frankfort these days is a minor miracle. This is a crew that just passed last year's budget this year.

It is incredibly encouraging news that the Northern Kentucky Legislative Caucus - which from time to time has been referred to as a "carcass" - did work together on a bill that benefits the region. Success in Frankfort is all about coalitions and compromise, and if lawmakers can continue this Dr. Phil moment of coming together, then that can only be good news for the region.

Of course, this being Frankfort, some old habits - and old grudges - die hard.

Take the bill inspired by the Erpenbeck Co. scandal. Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, spent months last year working with representatives of the banking, real estate, home building, title insurance and legal industries in crafting a bill designed to close some of the loopholes in the property closing process that employees of the Erpenbeck Co. were allegedly able to exploit.

The bill sailed through the House with near unanimous support. But what happened when it got to the Senate? Draud's fellow Republicans, namely the Senate's GOP leadership, torpedoed it.

And what really angered Draud was that Northern Kentucky's own Sen. Dick Roeding, a Lakeside Park Republican and member of Senate leadership, helped kill the bill.

Roeding made some comments that leadership felt "the bill went too far" in regulating the closing process.

But what was truly at work - Roeding admitted as much - was that Draud was being punished for having the audacity to file a bill increasing Kentucky's cigarette tax. Not a bad idea in a state with the second-lowest tobacco tax in the country and a $400 million budget deficit.

But Senate Republicans have risen to power opposing taxes, and Draud - along with the Erpenbeck bill - was tossed overboard for rocking the boat.

"He's got a bad attitude," Roeding said of Draud.

Roeding, Draud claims, let people down by not carrying the bill after he promised to do so.

Oh, well - at least our legislators can get along sometimes. That's better than not at all.

E-mail Patrick Crowley at pcrowley@enquirer.com




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