After road budget fiasco, legislature should open negotiations in special session

Against the smouldering wreckage of the Kentucky legislature's 2012 regular session, a few things stand out:

■ If lawmakers had done their job on time and in the open, this latest fiasco could have been averted.

■ The one constant in the legislature's repeated failures over the last decade to enact spending plans on time is Senate President David Williams.

■ As a special session begins Monday to finish what should have been finished in the regular session, lawmakers of both parties should insist on opening all negotiations on the transportation budget to public view.

■ Just as lawmakers must rein in their leaders, physicians must rein in lobbying by the Kentucky Medical Association that has gutted an effort to curb Kentucky's epidemic of prescription narcotics abuse.

Legislative leaders looked good last month by negotiating the main state budget in full view of KET cameras. Williams, in particular, praised how well the open budget negotiations worked.

Turns out that was just show; the executive branch budget was so bare it wasn't worth fighting over. When it came to the road fund, fattened by federal transportation dollars and high gasoline prices, leaders reverted to their old tradition of a few guys deciding where and how to spend billions of public dollars.

Williams and Senate Republicans deserve the bigger part of the blame, but the Democratic House is not blameless. The Senate let the session end without voting on a road budget. The House approved a compromise road budget that was developed in secret, without a single conference committee meeting and outside the legislature's own rules.

Meanwhile, the Senate let the prescription pill bill die but not before negotiators lobotomized it. Under the most recent compromise, restrictions would make the state's electronic tracking system even less effective than it is now for identifying pill mills and overprescribing trends. Kentucky desperately needs better from its elected leaders and the medical community.

Last week's legislative train wreck unfolded against an 11th-hour game of chicken.

Two pieces of legislation will govern road building over the next two years, a road plan and a road budget. Williams planned to withhold Senate approval of the road budget until Gov. Steve Beshear signed the road plan, fearing Beshear would veto some projects in the road plan, effectively nixing projects in any budget the Senate might approve.

Beshear said he needed the full 10 days provided by Kentucky's constitution to review the road plan.

In the old days before the Senate succumbed to Williams' brinkmanship, the legislature finished its work, went home for 10 days then came back for a few days to override vetoes. To override vetoes, the Senate has to finish its work on time.

Now, if Williams tries to run out the veto clock by dragging out the special session, at a cost of $60,000 a day, he might claim a tactical victory. But he will damage Senate Republicans' public stock and destroy any he might still have.

Kentuckians prefer to have Beshear, rather than Williams, steering the ship of state, including the road fund. They made that clear last November, when Beshear trounced Williams in the governor's race.