Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Like I said in the last post, nothing is ever for certain in Frankfort.
Monday, April 28, 2008
As I write this, work is being done to improve and widen Industrial Road from US 42 to US 25. That is Phase 1. Phase 2 expands and widens Industrial Road from US 25 to Turkeyfoot Road. Last year, Phase 2 was on the 6 year plan. This is important because a road cannot be funded unless it is on the 6 year plan.
Now in the Governor's first version of the 6 year road plan Phase 2 was removed. I made getting Phase 2 back on the 6 year plan this year a top priority for several reasons. First, I knew the chances of new roads being put on the 6 year plan was next to zero. Second, the cities of Elsmere and Independence and Kenton County each put up $100,000 for a local match to help the project along. Well, that money has been spent on Phase 1 (which is in none of those jurisdictions). It is unfair that their money is spent outside their areas and the part in their area is gone from the list.
I had the opportunity to share this with the Governor. I believe he interceded on my behalf to get it in the House version of the 6 year road plan because it was in there.
So then of course the budget goes to the Senate. In the Senate, Phase 2 came out, along with every other project the house added in their version. I don't blame the Senate, they treated every new project equally, it got cut out. Later, I was hopeful that Phase 2 would reappear in after the conference committee. That did not happen as again no new projects came out of the conference committee. So I thought it would be out for at least two years.
This is one of the more interesting things about this job, nothing is ever certain. Today the Governor vetoed HB 79, the biannual Highway Plan. Here is his statement:
FRANKFORT, KY (April 28, 2008) – Gov. Steve Beshear today vetoed House Bill 79, the Legislature’s version of a highway construction plan, citing the unprecedented manner in which it would have constrained his administration in the coming biennium.
“This legislation unnecessarily limits the ability of the Transportation Cabinet to make the kind of adjustments that are always necessary when implementing hundreds of road and bridge projects,” the Governor said.
In his veto message, the Governor said HB 79 would have severely limited the Transportation Cabinet’s ability to deal with project cost overruns.
“Without this veto, some critical projects may have to sit idle because the actual costs could exceed the amounts set forth in the bill,” he said. Adding to that untenable position, no change to the highway plan, no matter how badly needed, could be made without new legislation.
The Governor said he had directed Transportation Secretary Joe Prather to publish the Commonwealth’s highway plan combining all the projects he originally recommended with projects the Senate and the House added in their respective budget memorandums. In that way, all such projects can be considered for funding.
The state road plan will “provide maximum flexibility for the maintenance and the construction of the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure and maintain consistency with past practices,” the Governor said.
The plan also will contain a number of needed projects inexplicably omitted in HB 79. A listing of those projects will be made available when the replacement plan is published.
“There will not be enough funds available to move forward with every project included in the substitute plan,” Beshear added. “However, including them in the plan signifies their importance to me and my desire to move forward with them when funds become available.”
The way I read this, it looks like Phase 2 will be back in. I am going to try to confirm this.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
The budget we passed was quite lean, due to lower revenues. There was a bill passed to increase taxes by raising the cigarette tax, along with several other taxes. It passed the House 50-45, but never received a hearing in the Senate.
There were mixed feeling in the district about the cigarette tax. Most calls I received were against it. However, the was some real support for it also.
I voted against the tax increase, and here is why. There are many methods of either increasing revenue or saving money that can be implemented. These should be addressed before we look at raising taxes. These options include:
Repealing the prevailing wage law. I have talked length about this issue on this blog. We are looking at savings of $250-500 million per biennium.
Expanded gaming. This need no explanation, as it has been talked about plenty. Estimated revenue: $600 million to 1.2 billion per biennium.
Allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores. Currently, you can't buy wine in grocery stores. I don't understand why. Estimated revenue: $20-25 million per biennium.
You may not agree with all these options. Good people disagree on these issues and that is OK. But I feel that these need to be given the chance to pass before we look at raising taxes. My suggestions would generate between $870 million to $1.725 billion per biennium. The low end would mitigate the cuts in the budget, the high end would provided additional revenue needed for human services, education, and possibly even tax cuts that would spur economic development or eliminating the state portion of the car tax.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
This was a vital item to pass this year. It is a crime that nothing got done. Because when your pension system is $26 billion in the hole, it is probably past time to stop digging and start filling up the hole. Last year then Governor Fletcher put together a "blue-ribbon commission" to come up with solutions to this problem. That commission did an excellent job putting together their suggested plan.
So this session the House passed their version of the plan, the Senate passed their version of the plan. Which of course means that the issues goes to a conference committee. The conference committee was put together before we left for break on April 1st. So there was about 2 weeks to get an agreement. Yet I am not sure that there were any meetings held during the break. Either way, there was no agreement when we returned to Frankfort Monday.
Fast forward to Tuesday, or our last day in Frankfort. At about 3:00pm I am hearing that the issue is dead. At 6:00 it has new life as the committee (as we are told) are meeting on it. About 8:00pm it sounds like there is an agreement. Shortly thereafter some information starts floating around about the details of the agreement. I find out later that the conference committee never met, it was leadership who apparently worked out a deal.
By 10:30, it was dead again. Why? You can see in this article from the Lexington Herald Leader, apparently the Jefferson County Teachers Association(JCTA) and the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) killed the bill with their opposition. Instead, the House gutted another bill at the final hour and put the House version of the pension bill in it to send to the Senate. Not surprisingly, the Senate did nothing with it as they thought they had a compromise agreement with the House.
Since when did the KEA and the JCTA start running the Democratic Caucus in the House? Why is it that they get to make such vital policy decisions that affect every person in this state?
I have seen the very difficult job leadership has on these issues. It is a demanding, often thankless job. So I am not questioning judgement or motives. That said, I just don't understand how an issue gets this out of control, the need for a solution so obvious, and yet it can't get done.
From what I finally saw on a 2 page outline of the compromise, it barely stopped the bleeding. There was to be more study of the issue. There is no more studied issue in Frankfort. Of course, now that will be done, there is no choice. This should be the most important issue in the 2009 session, assuming there is no special session to take it up.
I will have many thoughts on what happened last night, the budget, and the process in the next few days. For the next day or two I will be decompressing.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
First, this is no way to run a government. This is not a reflection on the people who negotiate the budget or the staff who put it together. But when a system exists that drops a 250 page document on your desk and a 30 page summary to digest about 6 hours before you have to vote on it, there is something fundamentally wrong with the system.
The good news is that for the first time in a while the state is doing a better job living within its means. The projects in the original budget document were at a minimum. We lower our overall debt ratio. We make progress toward fulling funding the state portion of the retirement system for this biennium. NKU now has the authority to build their dorm. Plus we have a budget, which is better than leaving without one and have to spend more taxpayer dollars coming back to finish up.
The bad news is that there are many cuts. The is no increase in the SEEK formula, but it holds steady. A 3% cut to higher education. Cuts to other educational services like Safe Schools. Cuts to Human Services. No adolescent treatment center for NKY.
More thought to come.....
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Since we will be here until midnight tonight, I will try to blog on the budget in general tomorrow. I can say that this is an austere budget.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Now there are strong rumors that an alternative budget proposal is being put together right now.
All this needs to be decided on by midnight tomorrow night to be veto proof.
What a mess.