Sunday, July 4, 2004

Promises slow in coming for NKU projects

Pat Crowley

It has come time to pity Northern Kentucky's statehouse Republicans, especially the region's four state senators.

With a Republican in the Governor's Mansion for the first time since 1971, the GOP stronghold of Northern Kentucky was going to be rewarded, and rewarded big.

The senators - Katie Stine, Dick Roeding, Jack Westwood and Damon Thayer - were going to see to it that Gov. Ernie Fletcher took care of the region that gave him such a huge margin in the 2003 election.

And for the most part, they did, particularly when it came to Northern Kentucky University.

Democrats have for years been trying to squeeze money out of Frankfort for a new arena at NKU. They pretty much had the deal done about 10 years ago. But when most of the region's lawmakers voted against Gov. Wallace Wilkinson's education reform act - known as KERA - money for the arena was yanked and given to Murray State.

And local GOP lawmakers haven't always been warm to past Democratic administrations that tried to bestow money on NKU. Some Republicans were so lukewarm to the $38 million science building funded by Gov. Paul Patton they actually voted against the budget.

But the political winds shifted in December, when Fletcher took office. The senators were together, and working with the governor, they were going to deliver.

"This governor gets it," Roeding, the No. 2 ranking Senate Republican, proclaimed after Fletcher delivered a budget that proposed spending about $100 million at NKU, with almost half going for a new arena.

But lawmakers, hung up on the details of Fletcher's very detailed tax modernization reform plan, couldn't agree on a budget during the legislative session. A new fiscal year began Thursday without a spending plan in place. So Fletcher came up with his own plan, one that has no money for NKU or any other major projects.

Neither party is blameless in the budget impasse. Both sides are convinced the other is holding out on an agreement so as to gain political traction for the November elections.

But the time for politics is over. Fletcher and lawmakers from both parties applauded House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, the Wilder Democrat, when he stood recently with Republican Rep. Jon Draud of Edgewood in calling for an end to the stalemate.

Frankfort should be listening to Callahan now. Pass a budget, he says, and deal with Fletcher's tax-reform plan in next year's session. That way money for NKU and other projects and priorities becomes available and tax modernization can be debated in early 2005.

It does not appear, however, that there is much will for Callahan's plan. But cry not for the Republicans who hoped to shed their labels as obstructionists by delivering for NKU.

Save your tears for NKU and its students. They are the ones who are really losing out.


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