Larry Dale Keeling; Bruised egos, late budgets

the one constant is david williams, for now

Herald-leader columnistApril 22, 2012 

FRANKFORT — A couple of columns back, at a time when the 2012 General Assembly session seemed to be moving peacefully into the last few days before the annual veto recess, I wrote:

"But I would never bet on the House and Senate leaving town without a good fight over the budget or road plan, not even in a session as quiet as this one has been since the redistricting fiasco. ... Too many egos. Bruise just one, and it's time to get out the (manhood) measuring sticks."

Now, I'm no fortune teller. If I were, I would spend my days at the track cashing in on every race.

But as Bob Dylan told us many years ago, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. And you don't need computer weather models to sense a storm on the legislative horizon.

You just need a bit of historical perspective and an understanding of how political climate change has warmed the Capitol atmosphere in the dozen years since Republicans took control of the Senate.

As often as not during this period, General Assembly sessions have ended in stormy disasters. On five occasions, lawmakers adjourned without addressing important budgetary issues. Three times, they left without passing a budget for the executive branch of state government.

Last year, it was the Medicaid budget. This year, the transportation budget. Lawmakers' failure to do their most important job in the allotted time is a primary reason they've been called into special session 10 times since 2000.

Each of these budgetary debacles has been avoidable, none more so than this year's. If Senate President David Williams and his Republican colleagues wanted to make sure the road plan was veto-proof, all they had to do was pass it before the veto recess. Their protestations to the contrary, they had plenty of time to do so.

Instead, they waited until the 60th and final day of the session to send it to Gov. Steve Beshear. Then, Williams tried to play a little game of chicken by demanding that Beshear sign the road plan before the Senate voted on the transportation budget. Beshear didn't blink. No one worthy of being called a goober much less a governor could give in to such a threat and have any dignity left.

Thus, the regular session ended, a special session was called and no one went home happy. At least, not on time. The way Beshear applied his pen to the road plan Wednesday may have left 130-odd campers relatively happy while making at least one camper a bit mad.

Under the circumstances, Beshear had to veto something in the plan. Otherwise, it would look like he gave in to Williams.

But focusing his vetoes mainly on projects in Williams' Senate district — and calling out the Senate president in both the call for the special session and the veto message on the road plan — made it appear Beshear was acting out of personal animosity.

After "whooping" Williams soundly in the 2011 gubernatorial race, the last thing the governor should want is for people to think he has lowered himself to the level of the man often referred to as the "bully from Burkesville."

As usual in these session-ending budgetary disasters, there is plenty of blame to go around this year, enough to populate a circular firing squad of finger-pointers reaching all the way around the Capitol.

However, these dust-ups have involved three governors and two House speakers but just one Senate president. That says a lot, enough to one wonder how long Senate Republicans will let Williams continue to make them all look bad.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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