Op-Ed

Larry Dale Keeling: Beshear, lawmakers make puzzling moves

FRANKFORT — Senate President David Williams proposes lopping six days off the 2011 General Assembly calendar to save a bit of the state's change. House Speaker Greg Stumbo says he has no problem with the idea.

Seriously?

Senate Republicans and House Democrats, whose budgetary disagreements sent the 2010 General Assembly into overtime, are going to make nice on the issues this year and go home six days early?

Sure, hundreds of lobbyists, legislative staffers, administration officials, media grunts and even some lawmakers (those who aren't greedy about the per diem and expenses they get during a session) would burst into a spontaneous rendition of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus if it should happen.

But with the air in the Capitol so thick with gubernatorial politics you can barely breathe, with Williams intent on using this session to bolster his chances of relocating to the Capitol's first floor, with House Democrats (some of them anyway) looking to stymie him when they're not feuding among themselves and with Gov. Steve Beshear no doubt adding ink to his veto pen just in case House D's can't hold the line, is there anyone who really expects this session will be wrapped up in a pretty little package adorned with ribbons and bows ahead of schedule?

Step up, Pollyanna, I'd love to look at the world through your rosy spectacles.

Besides, even if Williams and Stumbo do pull off this miracle of biblical proportions, not a single tax penny will be saved.

You won't see the $380,000 or so it would cost to be in session on those days shifted to the General Fund budget where it could serve a useful purpose such as funding education or matching federal Medicaid dollars. The money will remain in the legislature's budget, available for such worthy ends as spiffing up lawmakers' Capitol Annex digs with luxuries like the 60-inch plasma TV screen in Williams' office.

Seriously. This time without the question mark.

Of course, any week of a General Assembly session produces more than one "Seriously?" incident. No. 2 last week was Beshear's State of the Commonwealth Address.

I'm not referring to his ode to Ol' King Coal or the "reckless spending in Washington" rant that earned him justified criticism on some of the state's editorial pages. I'm referring to his scheduling the speech in direct conflict with a televised University of Kentucky men's basketball game, a decision definitely worthy of a "Seriously?"

In this state, that's akin to scheduling the speech to conflict with Easter Sunrise Service or Midnight Mass on Christmas.

No rule or tradition dictates the scheduling of this speech, other than that it be early in a session. The governor suggests a date, and lawmakers generally accommodate him.

In each of the past two years, Beshear delivered the address on a Wednesday — in the first week of the 2010 session and in the first week of the main part of the 2009 session. In his first year in office, he delivered it on the Monday of the session's second week.

This year, he chose a date that put him in a ratings battle with the Wildcats, which prompted some hallway jokes about the governor not wanting anyone to see his speech.

A third "Seriously?" incident involved first lady Jane Beshear, who was scheduled to testify before the House Education Committee on a bill that would raise the school dropout age to 18. The meeting was supposed to convene 30 minutes after the House adjourned its floor session Wednesday.

But House Democrats decided to have a caucus meeting, which left the first lady — and others — waiting in a committee room for more than an hour before the meeting convened.

Seriously, House D's?

You seriously want to be that rude?

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