Friday, March 19, 2004

Ky. lawmakers should finish their work


Only a few days remain in the Kentucky General Assembly's regular session, yet its major items of business - a state budget and a tax reform plan - remain unresolved while lawmakers dither over side issues.

Dither Central is the House, where majority Democrats' principal course of action appears to be finding excuses for inaction.

On Monday, they complained they didn't want to go first in considering Gov. Ernie Fletcher's tax reform package, saying they feared the GOP-controlled Senate then would double-cross them by voting down the Republican governor's proposal. Right.

On Tuesday, after Fletcher took the unusual step of appearing before the House budget committee, Speaker Jody Richards complained that Fletcher filed his 261-page plan too late, making it "virtually impossible" for the House to analyze it. That led Senate President David Williams to offer to send someone over to "put it in big print."

Richards doesn't have much of a beef. Fletcher began talks with the House on tax reform in early February, but lawmakers slowed the process by refusing to discuss his proposals. And the governor's appearance Tuesday was meant to offer compromises on the plan, as well as to pledge he wouldn't use tobacco and alcohol tax hikes as an issue against them in the fall election.

House leaders may not want tax reform. Even though all tax bills must originate in the House, they insist the Senate consider it first by tacking it onto the budget bill - which would further complicate a crucial piece of legislation that is slated, as is typical, for a last-minute vote. They're rebuffing Fletcher's offer of a special session to give the House more time to study the tax reform bill.

Too bad. Fletcher has offered a prudent, revenue-neutral reform that most analysts see as good for long-term economic growth. It's no quick fix, however, so there's little political payoff for incumbents this fall.

Democratic leaders also remain miffed that six of their members stood with Fletcher when he unveiled his reform plan - and could swing a floor vote his way. They should get over it. Kentuckians deserve better than government by hissy fit. Lawmakers should stop bickering and start legislating.

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