Budgets then and now

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As members of the joint House-Senate budget committee toil through this weekend to reconcile the budgets submitted by Gov. Ernie Fletcher and those passed by each chamber of the General Assembly, we are reminded of how state budgets became law as recently as 25 years ago.

The governor introduced the budget and it passed the House and Senate virtually unchanged.

The late Clay Wade Bailey, who covered Frankfort for the Kentucky Post for many years, told how Gov. Earle T. Clements, who served from 1947 to 1950, would hand carry his budget to the House, give it to the clerk and sit beside the speaker while it was passed unanimously in minutes. He then carried it to the Senate, which followed the same procedure.

Frankforts present state senator, former Gov. Julian Carroll (1974-1979), was the last chief executive who wielded anywhere near that kind of power and influence. Carroll personally briefed the media on his budgets and had an exhaustive understanding of where every dollar was allocated in them.

Carroll also was the last governor who personally selected the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate at a time when Democrats controlled both. There werent many changes made in how Carroll wanted the money spent.

Carrolls successor, Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. (1979-1983) cared less who was majority leader in the House or Senate or, for that matter, what legislation passed and what didnt. Legislators thus got their first taste of legislative independence, a goal only whispered about in hallways of the third floor of the Capitol. They also discovered that they actually could make substantive changes in a governors budget and the dome wouldnt come crashing down on their heads.

The rest, of course, is history.

Republicans control the Senate now, and that led to impasses with the Democratic House in 2002 and 2004 in which no budgets were passed on time.

As messy as the process looks yes, like making sausages, its not pretty probably the only person in Frankfort today looking back wistfully on a time when the governor could pass his budget in a matter of minutes is Fletcher.

And even he couldnt exercise much control over the Senate.

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