Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Panel seat stirs debate

Westwood gains power to get projects done

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT MITCHELL - Sen. Jack Westwood's appointment to a state committee involved in prioritizing major construction projects has drawn fire from his Democratic opponent.

Westwood, a Crescent Springs Republican, is running for re-election this year in Kenton County's 23rd Senate District. He has been appointed Senate chairman of the Capital Planning Advisory Board.

According to a statement from Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, the committee is "charged with preparing a statewide plan and making funding recommendations to the governor and the legislature on spending for projects for inclusion in the state budget."

Williams said Westwood was chosen as co-chairman of the panel because of experience on other committees, including the Senate budget committee.

"He's a solid member and can be depended on to do a good job," Williams said in the statement.

Westwood said the board "sets priorities on project funding, such as courthouses and university expansions."

"I'll be able to ensure that Northern Kentucky projects aren't left out," said Westwood, a retired teacher seeking a third term in November.

But Westwood's opponent, Fort Mitchell Democrat Kathy Groob, said the appointment was politically motivated.

"This is another attempt by the Republican Party to help put Jack Westwood in positions that will help him in his campaign," said Groob, a member of Fort Mitchell City Council.

"He's never demonstrated an advocacy for capital spending. That's not his track record," Groob said. "This was obviously done to pump him up."

The committee typically meets between annual legislative sessions. It prepares a state plan every two years and recommends projects for funding.

The final decision on what projects are funded still lies with the governor's office and the General Assembly. But the committee does have some influence over what projects are considered.

There is no money to spend on projects, because the legislature has yet to agree on a new state budget.

Westwood's campaign has said he worked with other Northern Kentucky Republican senators to insert millions of dollars in the budget for Northern Kentucky University and Gateway Community and Technical College. The money has not yet been allocated, however, because there is no new state budget.

"This committee can recommend and research and do all this work, but without revenue to spend, it can't do anything," Groob said. "Still, the No. 1 job of (lawmakers) is to pass the budget, and he did not do his job.

"The primary place to make projects happen is in the legislature, and (Westwood) has not been able to make anything happen for Northern Kentucky."

Scott Sedmak, Westwood's campaign spokesman, said, "Jack's appointment gives Northern Kentucky a stronger voice on capital projects being created all over the commonwealth."

"If Groob thinks that this board isn't important, then she doesn't understand how Frankfort works at all," Sedmak said.

The 23rd Senate District covers these Kenton County communities: Erlanger, Edgewood, Elsmere, Fort Wright, Crescent Springs, Villa Hills, Bromley, Ludlow, Park Hills, Covington and Fort Mitchell.

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

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