A furious Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear sharply criticized his chief Republican adversary Friday for "a ridiculous political maneuver" that forced him to call a special legislative session to get two important bills passed.
The governor called for the special session to begin Monday so lawmakers can finish work on the two pieces of legislation.
Beshear told reporters he is "disgusted and angry" that lawmakers ended their 2012 session late Thursday night without passing a transportation budget and a prescription drug abuse bill aimed at curbing overdose deaths in the state. The second-term governor blamed Senate President David Williams, calling him "the fly in the ointment."
"Sen. Williams is so wrapped up in winning what he sees as a political game here in Frankfort that he's willing to turn his back on the needs of our people," Beshear said. "In essence, he forgets why he's here. Yesterday, our Senate president not only refused to pass routine bills to keep the state operational, but also torpedoed essential legislation designed to protect the health and safety of our citizens."
Williams pointed his finger at Beshear earlier Friday, blaming him for a political stalemate that brought the legislative session to the frustrating conclusion. He also urged Beshear to moderate his criticism.
"The governor has to calm down a bit," Williams said. "My wife is here today. We have two small children, and he's actually putting us at risk if he continues to make these hateful and vitriolic statements that he's making. I've already experienced people that have publicly accosted me and yelled at me over things that he has said. And he continues to try to ramp things up and make this personal."
Kentucky's divided Legislature has a history of ending annual its sessions without budget agreements. The state's last three budgets were adopted in special sessions called after lawmakers failed to reach accords on spending plans. And Beshear and Williams have been longtime rivals, facing off just last year in a gubernatorial race that Beshear won.
Williams had insisted Thursday that the nearly 400-page state road construction plan should be signed before the Senate would pass the accompanying transportation budget that would have provided funding for the projects.
"That's the process that we use here," Williams said, "to make sure the road plan is enacted and signed before it's funded."
Williams said he doesn't intend to change that in next week's legislative session. If the governor wants the transportation budget passed next week, he must first sign the road construction plan into law, Williams said.
Beshear said during a press conference Friday morning that Williams had inserted $288 million worth of construction projects for his rural district into the road plan. Beshear charged that Williams feared those projects would be vetoed.
The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate had passed the two-part, $10 billion road plan on the final day of this year's legislative session. One part lists $4.5 billion worth roads and bridges to be built across the state over the next two years. The other lists more long-term projects that would be on the drawing board for the following four years.
The bill includes funding for the state's single largest project: $2.6 billion for two bridges across the Ohio River in Louisville. It also includes $200 million to widen the heavily traveled Interstate 65, where numerous fatal traffic crashes have occurred in recent years. A crash on a rural stretch of the highway near Munfordville in 2010 killed 11 people, 10 of them members of a Mennonite family.
But funding for those projects, Beshear said, was in the transportation budget that didn't get passed.
Beshear said he would limit the agenda for the special session to only those two items so that lawmakers can finish their work as soon as possible. Each day of a special session costs more than $60,000. Beshear said he believes lawmakers can finish the work in five days, which would put the total cost of the special session at more than $300,000.
Proponents consider the prescription bill one of the most crucial for Kentucky, a state where officials say more people are dying from overdoses than car wrecks. Beshear put the number at more than 80 per month.
The bill would allow the attorney general's office to monitor the prescribing patterns of Kentucky physicians. Beshear said most physicians have no reason to fear the legislation. He said it's aimed at "pill pushers in white coats" who dole out painkillers to addicts.
Williams had said lawmakers were "very close to an agreement" on the drug bill before the legislative session ended.
Kentucky Medical Association President Shawn Jones said his group has opposed the legislation out of concern about the handling of sensitive personal medical information about people who have been prescribed painkillers and anti-anxiety medications.