Beshear vetoes parts of state budget; lawmakers still working on road plan

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comApril 11, 2012 

FRANKFORT — Uncertainty reigned in the Capitol on Wednesday night as lawmakers and Gov. Steve Beshear struggled to prepare themselves for what is expected to be the final day of the 2012 legislative session on Thursday.

Beshear waited until 7:20 p.m. Wednesday to veto more than three dozen line-items in the $19 billion, two-year state budget, even as leading lawmakers continued trying to hammer out an agreement on a road-building plan for the next biennium.

If an agreement on the transportation budget is not reached in time for a Thursday vote, the legislature could move the 60th and final day of the legislative session to Friday or Saturday, although House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams cast doubt on that scenario Wednesday evening.

The Kentucky Constitution requires the General Assembly to adjourn by the end of April 15, which is Sunday.

A majority of legislators — 20 of 38 senators and 51 of 100 representatives — is needed to override Beshear’s vetoes in the budget bill, which both chambers approved on March 30.

Beshear said he vetoed portions of the General Fund budget that limited his ability to manage the state's budget or spent money that doesn't exist.

For example, Beshear vetoed a provision that would require any surplus money to go directly into the state's "rainy day" fund. Beshear also nixed language that would place restrictions on how he makes $80 million in unspecified cuts that the legislature added to the budget.

Both provisions would hamper his ability to manage the state's already dismal finances, Beshear said in his veto message.

"I am vetoing these parts because they eliminate or reduce flexibility of the executive branch to balance the budget, reduce the flexibility to contend with revenue shortfalls with unprecedented exclusions and limitations," Beshear said.

He also cut some earmarks placed in the budget by legislators, including $100,000 for Actors Theatre of Louisville and $150,000 for the International Mystery Writers' Festival in Owensboro.

"I am vetoing these parts because they identify new spending earmarks yet the General Assembly failed to appropriate additional funds to finance them," Beshear said.

The two-year budget calls for spending cuts of more than 8.4 percent for many state agencies.

Beshear, speaking at a news conference earlier Wednesday, also urged legislators to approve a two-year road budget. Taxpayers will not be happy if he has to call a special legislative session — which can cost more than $60,000 a day — so legislators can approve a road plan, Beshear said.

"I am confident that the House and Senate in the end will be able to produce a road plan," he said.

Another key piece of legislation on the General Assembly's Thursday docket is House Bill 4, aimed at reducing the abuse of pain pills in Kentucky.

The measure would place restrictions on who may own and operate pain clinics, require health care providers to use the state's prescription drug-monitoring system and move control of the monitoring system from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to Attorney General Jack Conway's office. That move is designed to help law enforcement better track doctors who are overprescribing pain medications, supporters say.

The Kentucky Medical Association has launched an aggressive lobbying effort to block some portions of the bill, including a $50 fee for all physicians to use the monitoring system.

Beshear said Wednesday that he thought the medical association's concerns were unfounded.

No legitimate health professional has anything to fear from the bill, he said.

"We are losing thousands of Kentuckians to overdoses of prescription medicine that is being used illegally," Beshear said.

Also Wednesday, Senate committees recommended that the full Senate confirm Beshear's appointees to several boards and commissions. Don Blevins Sr., a former Fayette County clerk, was recommended for confirmation to the state Personnel Board.

The full Senate will vote on the confirmations when they return Thursday.

Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog:

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