Now that the possibility of a mid-session power shift is past — and voters have actually strengthened Democrats’ hold on the Kentucky House of Representatives — it’s time for the histrionics and posturing to stop and for the give and take to begin.
Wednesday was the 44th day of the 60-day session in which lawmakers must approve a two-year state budget.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is not going to get all the budget cuts he is demanding, cuts described as “draconian” by University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto. Nor are lawmakers of either party apt to approve the governor’s proposals without more specifics.
Lawmakers have lacked critical details of the administration’s planned cuts, especially in human services, and also of Bevin’s spending requests, most prominently $100 million in bonds for workforce development projects.
The governor has given the public-pension crisis top priority in his first budget; lawmakers should not leave Frankfort without meeting their obligations to teachers and other public employees. In the end, though, the pension crisis won’t be solved without increasing taxes.
Bevin did himself no favors by trying to embarrass House Democrats with a too-cute video the morning before four special elections for vacant House seats. Bevin visited the empty House chambers at 11 a.m. and chided Democrats for not having already acted on the budget, saying they’re “supposed to be at work in here.” Both the House and the Republican-controlled Senate convene at 4 p.m. on Mondays.
House Democrats quickly released photos of their leaders and budget committee members working on the budget in a conference room; Speaker Greg Stumbo quipped that they’d happily send a trooper over to escort the new governor to the Capitol Annex where the legislature does most of its work.
Bevin, who had been hoping to flip the House, had to be disappointed that Republicans lost three of the four special elections, even losing a seat that had been held by a Republican, newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. Democrats now hold 53 seats and Republicans 47.
But the setback could be a great early opportunity for Bevin to adjust his approach to dealing with lawmakers in general and the opposition party in particular.
Recent Kentucky history teaches that a governor cannot be effective by alienating the legislature. Voters on Tuesday signaled that this would be a smart time for Bevin to hit reset.