FRANKFORT — This is getting personal, Mother Nature. You don't have to snow me in every time a column is due. I can meet my deadlines just fine without such assistance.
I don't need to look out at upwards of two feet (maybe more) of your polar wrath to get my curmudgeonly juices flowing. They flow quite nicely whenever the General Assembly comes to town and starts playing games.
Speaking of games, Ma, even someone as fickle as you tend to be has to go a bit slack-jawed at Senate Republicans' recent capriciousness on the subject of debt.
On Feb. 27, the Senate voted 28-8 to pass Senate Bill 94, which would limit the amount of money the state spends on debt service at any given time to 6 percent of General Fund revenues. The current budget devotes 6.68 percent of revenues to debt service, a figure that jumps to 8.1 percent if you include repayment of the bonded indebtedness incurred to build dozens of new courthouses around the state, according to Sen. Joe Bowen, the sponsor of the bill. All but three Senate Republicans voted for SB 94.
Although I tend to err on the side of flexibility in terms of legislative authority, I sympathize with the idea of keeping debt service at 6 percent of revenues or lower. Traditionally, this has been the magic number. Exceeding it was considered fiscally irresponsible (and still is as far as I'm concerned).
Here's the thing, though: Four days after passing SB 94, the Senate voted 36-1 to give final approval to House Bill 298, which authorizes the issuance of $132.5 million in state bonds for the construction of a University of Kentucky medical research center. All but one of the Senate's 26 Republicans voted for the bond issue.
Following committee action on SB 94 earlier in the session, Bowen told reporters his debt limit and House Speaker Greg Stumbo's proposed $3.3 billion bond issue for the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System were at loggerheads. "(T)hose bonds would blow my (debt) ratio out of the water," he said.
At a time when debt service eats up 6.68 percent of revenues (8.1 percent with the courthouse debt included), a $132.5 million bond issue for the UK research facility also blows Bowen's ratio out of the water. Not as far $3.3 billion would blow it, but out of the water nonetheless. Still, Bowen and 24 other Senate Republicans voted to launch the depth charge.
Capricious? Hypocritical? Shameless? Yeah, yeah and yeah. Senate Republicans knew the debt limit had no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled House. Passage of SB 94 was no more than a "statement" they made to satisfy segments of their constituency. They've made similar unproductive statements on such issues as "right to work" and the "prevailing wage" laws.
They are not alone, of course. House Democrats made their own "statements" on the KTRS bond issue and raising the minimum wage. These are the games a shared-power General Assembly plays. All that sets Senate Republicans apart on the debt issue is how quickly and publicly they flipped and flopped. Given the games the General Assembly plays, Ma, you don't need to snow me in to force me to meet my deadlines. The best way you can help is by finding some way to remind lawmakers the time for "statements" is over. With just a handful of days left in this session, it's time to get down to the task of actually governing.
Oh, and by the way, Ma, take your snow and shove it.
Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling at herald-leader.com.