Friday, April 16, 2004

Still no budget; now what?

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Gov. Ernie Fletcher on Thursday said he was trying to determine the extent of his authority to operate state government without an enacted budget.

The General Assembly adjourned Tuesday night without passing a budget. It was deadlocked over the House's refusal to accept a budget that included a Fletcher tax plan and the Senate's refusal to pass a budget without it.

The current budget expires June 30. In the absence of another, Fletcher would begin operating the state under his own "executive spending plan" the following day.

The precedent was set in 2002, when the Republican Senate and Democratic House also deadlocked and no budget was passed until the following year. For nine months, then-Gov. Paul Patton ran state government on a spending plan.

Patton's authority to spend money without appropriation was challenged in a lawsuit by state Treasurer Jonathan Miller. There was never a ruling. The suit was dismissed as moot once the current budget was passed in March 2003.

Fletcher said he did not plan to call the General Assembly back into special session. Neither did he rule it out. "The House leadership can always give me a call and I'll be glad to talk with them," Fletcher said.

House Speaker Jody Richards, whom Fletcher has repeatedly blamed for blocking a House vote on the Senate budget and tax bill, said he has been "trying to reach out" through an intermediary to the governor and to his legislative archrival, Senate President David Williams.

Richards said Fletcher's "tax modernization" plan, a combination of tax cuts and increases, can wait another day since it was not counted on to produce money until the following biennium.

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