State budget stalls in legislature’s last day

Shawntaye Hopkins

Kentucky legislators are still waiting for a budget for the next biennium.

There’s only one problem.

They are no longer in session, so the spending plan will have to come another way.

The General Assembly adjourned on Tuesday without passing a state budget, leaving legislators and Western officials waiting for a spending plan from Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Fletcher indicated yesterday that he will not call a special session, but will instead create his own spending plan, said Jeannie Lausche, press secretary for the governor.

Fletcher has until July 1 to implement a state budget.

But the courts could decide that the state government must only operate essential services if members of the House or Senate decide to file a lawsuit.

Western could risk losing renovation projects that were funded in the House and Senate budget proposals – and the university might also risk losing some base funding.

House Democrats and Senate Republicans were unable to work out their differences regarding Fletcher’s tax modernization plan.

“The governor and his administration are very disappointed that House Democrats continued to be obstructionists and let the people of Kentucky down,” Lausche said.

House Democrats did not want to discuss Fletcher’s tax modernization plan before addressing the budget, said Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro.

The Senate attached Fletcher’s plan onto the budget proposal it passed last month.

“We didn’t need to pass tax reform to fund or support the elements of the budget,” Thompson said. “So they didn’t have to be dealt with together.”

The House was not opposed to a tax plan and would have created a smaller version of it after budget decisions were made, he said.

Sen. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, said it was necessary to address the tax plan to ensure that there were predictable and stable revenues. The tax plan itself does not create any additional revenue.

This is not the first time the legislature has adjourned without passing a budget. It also happened it 2002.

Gov. Paul Patton decided to create his own spending plan when that happened. The Senate filed a suit saying he did not have the authority to create a spending plan.

The courts did not rule before the General Assembly met. The legislature passed a budget during last year’s short session.

The courts may make a ruling this year if a member of the House or Senate decides to file a lawsuit, said Robbin Taylor, assistant to the president for governmental relations.

“I think the courts will step in this time,” she said.

She said that if essential services did not include Western, the university could have to operate with a substantial chunk of its budget missing.

But Taylor said she doubts it will come to that.

President Gary Ransdell said about one-third of Western’s budget is state money.

“I’ve got to assume that higher education would be considered emergency services,” President Gary Ransdell said. “If it’s not then something’s really wrong.”

Guthrie said he believes essential services would include prisons, police departments and educational institutions.

“If you don’t operate the university people don’t move forward,” he said.

But Fletcher does not have the authority to issue bond or debt service, Thompson said. Those would be needed for Western to create the Kentucky Academy of Math and Science and to renovate the science buildings.

The General Assembly could pass a budget during its 30-day session in February 2005.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]