Saturday, May 8, 2004

Pence tells Fletcher foes to 'get on board'

Voters mandated governor's tax plan at polls, Lt. gov. says

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Lt. Gov. Steve Pence says Democratic House leaders who blocked the Fletcher administration's tax plan should "either get on board" or be turned out of office.

Voters effectively gave a mandate supporting Gov. Ernie Fletcher's tax plan when they elected him governor in November, Pence said. He blamed House leaders for the General Assembly not having passed a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

"Either get on board with what the voters said they want or we will have to replace them with people who listen to what the voters have already said - and that is they want fiscal responsibility and they want tax modernization," Pence told reporters at the Capitol Friday.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who was standing next to Pence at the time, said his lieutenant was acting on his own, not being his point man in a partisan attack.

Pence first made the remarks earlier this week in Danville at a dinner for the Centre College Chapter of College Republicans, spokesman Ryan Watts confirmed. When asked about them Friday, Pence said he stood behind his remarks and "believed everything that I said."

Voters had a preview of how Fletcher wanted to change Kentucky's tax code when they elected him, Pence said. His election should have been enough for House lawmakers to go along with Fletcher's plan and pass a state budget, Pence said.

"The House leadership has failed to listen to the voters," Pence said. "And I quite honestly think this last budget, for them to walk away and not deliver a budget, was a calamity."

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, issued a statement asking to "stop the political bickering." He said he was disappointed by Pence's remarks.

"I call on Gov. Ernie Fletcher to ask that members of his administration put an end to this counterproductive name -alling," Richards said in the release.

The House and Senate adjourned last month without passing a budget for the biennium that starts July 1. Their major point of contention centered on Fletcher's proposal to overhaul the tax code.

Senate Republicans insisted Fletcher's tax plan should be part of the state budget negotiations. But House Democrats felt they should be separate, with the budget negotiations coming first.

Fletcher has said that the House and Senate need to strike a deal before he'll call them back for a special session on the budget.

The governor said his role should be to build consensus between the two chambers. As for Pence's remarks, Fletcher said the lieutenant governor could speak his own mind.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who said he would sue if Fletcher tried to run state government on his own spending plan in the absence of an enacted budget, invited Fletcher and other state officials to join in.

Stumbo said Friday that they should collectively make "an amicable request for a declaration of rights" from Franklin County Circuit Court.

He sent letters to that effect to Fletcher, House and Senate leadership and the other state constitutional officeholders. He asked for answers by Tuesday.

State Treasurer Jonathan Miller - later joined by Senate President David Williams - sued then-Gov. Paul Patton over the same issue in 2002, the only previous time in which the General Assembly failed to pass a budget.

The case dragged and was dismissed as moot after the legislature passed a budget in 2003. For nine months, the state operated under a Patton spending plan.

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