Thursday, April 15, 2004

Budget blame game begins

Governor blames Democrats, who in turn blame GOP

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EDGEWOOD - The battling and finger-pointing that prevented Kentucky lawmakers from passing a state budget continued Wednesday with Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher jumping into the fray.

Fletcher was here Wednesday night with his wife, Glenna, to attend a fund-raiser for Kenton County Republican state Sen. Jack Westwood. The governor said leaders in the Democratic-controlled House hurt the region by not passing a budget.

"We had projects up here that were very important for this area's economic development," Fletcher said.

Those projects included a $47 million special events center for Northern Kentucky University and several million dollars for new water lines in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

"All of those things were killed simply because House Democratic leadership would not even allow a vote on a budget," the governor said.

Other leading Republicans took similar swipes at House Democratic leaders.

"We sent the budget over four times, and they refused to accept it," said Senate President Pro Tem Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park. "There was never any cooperation from that side."

Roeding placed the blame on House Democratic leadership, saying the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages was initially bottled up by Democratic leaders. But once the bill was called, the rank-and-file overwhelmingly approved the measure 85-11. There are 64 Democrats in the House.

"It would have been about the same type situation on the budget if they would have allowed a vote on it," Roeding said.

Wilder Democrat Rep. Jim Callahan, a member of House leadership, said disagreements between Senate Republican leadership and Fletcher's office over the governor's tax reform package killed the budget.

"That is where the problem is, not with (the House)," said Callahan, the House Majority Caucus Chairman. "We didn't even get a budget from them until Monday night. There wasn't time enough to act."

Fletcher disputed Callahan's interpretation, saying Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, did nothing to hamper budget negotiations.

Westwood, a retired school teacher from Crescent Springs seeking a third term in the Senate this fall, raised about $50,000 at the fund-raiser. An estimated crowd of 150 attended the event, held at the Edgewood home of Pete and Kate Wenzel.

Westwood's opponent, Fort Mitchell Democrat Kathy Groob, said Westwood and Senate Republicans failed their constituents by not passing a budget.

"When they put politics before people it's the people who suffer," said Groob, a member of Fort Mitchell City Council.

"This failure hurts our schools even more because they are trying to do more with less and then we take away their ability to produce sound fiscal plans," she said.

Fletcher said he would call lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special session to pass the budget if legislative leaders could reach a compromise. But he does not expect that to happen.

Fletcher said he will continue operating state government at current spending levels, a move that could invite a lawsuit from Democrats who might contest the governor's authority to spend state dollars on his own.


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