Projects live, people hurt

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With a little bit of sugar to help the medicine go down, the General Assembly eventually passed a budget that put projects over people.

A last-minute deal allowed legislators to assign millions of dollars in coal severance taxes and tobacco settlement money for public works back home. And lawmakers also will consider an additional $150 million for water and sewer work elsewhere around the state. Supplemental appropriations could come in the final two days of the session.

But state workers and teachers are scheduled to get only 1 percent pay increases each of the next two years, and one budgetary assumption is that many of them won't be replaced after taking an enhanced-retirement package expiring at the end of the year.

The pill went down easily enough in the Senate's 35-3 vote for approval Wednesday night. The House gulped a little harder before making its own 74-21 decision.

Senate President David Williams, in a pitch likely to resonate with many who elected him, said legislators could not keep teachers and public employees on an "island" isolated from hard times. Besides, he pointed out, the state's plan to absorb increases in health-insurance costs will help to offset the meager pay raises. He suggested many in the private sector would jump at such an offer. That may be, but it sounds more like an argument for universal health care than for curtailing government pay adjustments.

Both capital-area representatives, Derrick Graham of Frankfort and Carl Rollins of Midway, voted against the budget bill. "This whole thing is dysfunctional," Graham declared. He also attacked the negotiation process that started out in the open before conference committee members closed the doors to work out their final deals. "It's got to be a more open process," in his view.

Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, who earlier in the session supported revenue enhancement to meet the state's needs, went along with the majority in his chamber's final vote.

About the best that can be said is that the legislature isn't leaving town without adopting a budget, as in times past. Like some sports teams, lawmakers can claim a victory, of sorts, but it certainly wasn't pretty.

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