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Balancing Budgets and Ambitions

By wmadministrator

Once asked how he had become friends with his long-time rival Louie B. Nunn, Ned Breathitt said, “We are no longer treading on each other’s ambitions.”

The two formidable former governors and fierce foes became partners for progress later in life. Ambitions still abound in Frankfort, some to be trumped while others triumph, as a troubled budget begs for re-balancing.
There are knowns and unknowns.

The epic speaker of the House of Representatives contest between Jody Richards and Greg Stumbo, two dominant names for years, was determined at press time.

House Speaker Stumbo will drive the agenda and tone for the short, 30-day session ending in late March. About a dozen of 65 House Democrats are after the other top leadership jobs – much like choosing among great aunts for who will head the family reunion.

Rep. Rocky Adkins will return as majority floor leader, but the House will be reshuffled at least in part. Last winter the House majority was divided at times, failing to give critical political mass to big questions and concerns.

Can the House make peace – and keep it – after highly personal Democratic infighting? House Republicans under Reps. Jeff Hoover, Dr. Bob DeWeese and Stan Lee comprise just over one-third of the body.

Senate sensitivity
The upper chamber finds Republicans with a strong upper hand under venerable Senate President David Williams.
Strong personalities join Williams at the top, including Dan Kelly, Dan Seum, Carroll Gibson and Katie Kratz Stine, the only woman in legislative leadership.

New Senate freshmen, John Schickel of northern Kentucky and David Givens from the Glasgow region, are expected to be both seen and heard. So, too, is Kathy Stein of Lexington, influential on issues from 10 years in the House.

Democrats balance out under diplomat Ed Worley, the minority leader, along with Johnny Ray Turner from the east and Joey Pendleton from the west.

Can the more sedate Senate find unanimity, giving large majorities to key considerations, following its 2008 vote on pension reform?

Sen. Kelly, the majority floor leader, could carry key measures like criminal sentencing, corrections reform and possibly economic incentive updates. Can consensus, perhaps even budding bipartisanship, be Senate-initiated?

Money matters
The state’s half-billion dollar budget shortfall virtually doubles in FY10 beginning July 1, completely preoccupying the governor – and everyone else.

A cigarette tax increase will light up the tax dollar debate. The new tax polls favorably, and no one has ever before lost an election by backing an increase on cigarettes. Still, how much is too much tax in the midst of a recession?

Virtually every interest group hangs by the purse strings. Key voices include major education leaders — Dr. Michael McCall of KCTCS, Dr. Lee Todd of UK and Dr. Jim Ramsey of Uof L, all espousing the education perils brought by reduced state funding and higher tuitions.

The State Board of Education will pick a commissioner, who must dive in quickly. Gov. Steve Beshear now has a voting majority on the board.

Observers look for a local school superintendent to land at the top – perhaps someone from outside the golden triangle. Brent McKim, leader of the powerful Louisville teachers’ union, will weigh in often.

Gaming gains
With expanded gaming well into its second decade of discussion, the question shifts from a constitutional amendment to a Stumbo-written bill, which would place video lottery terminals at racetracks.

The result would be higher purses for horse racing, which faces stiff competition; and the elimination of car tax for taxpayers who face a tough financial environment (the state’s portion of car tax money would be offset by gaming revenue).

KEEP, the united horse lobby, will be front and center along with opponents in the religious community. Bishops of the Catholic Conference are picking a new lobbyist in time for the fight.

Energy edge
Gov. Beshear has several power options on the table. Rep. Adkins is the leading advocate for coal along with a virtual coal caucus.

Other voices include natural gas expert William Barr, Bill Caylor of the Kentucky Coal Association, and a cadre of smart legislators – including Rep. Tonya Pullin and Sen. Robert Stivers – plus environmental advocates led by knowledgeable Tom FitzGerald.

Missing notes: a chorus for serious consideration of nuclear power, a topic before every surrounding state.

Governor gaining
The Beshear brand is up in the polls, burnished by solid steps throughout the year. The last session hurt Beshear and others, who are seen at times as disconnected from fellow officials.

Will this General Assembly be different? It may take a special session, carefully prepared to finish what the short legislative session starts, if unity is elusive.

Ambitions ahead
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning’s re-election, up in 2010, could draw popular Democrats Daniel Mongiardo, Crit Luallen and Jack Conway – each camped in Frankfort with

political briefcases full of policy solutions – and also Trey Grayson, a Republican for the future, who carries a legislative agenda.

And on the more distant horizon is the next governor’s race and a Beshear second term. The entire potential 2011 field of candidates could all conceivably be under the gold dome of the statehouse over the winter.