There must be a better way

Published:

Is this really the way to decide how to spend $18 billion in tax money over the next two years?

The General Assembly has been in session here since the first week in January. Yet with the clock running out on its regular 60-day session, a handful of senators and representatives, meeting over this past weekend in secret, will decide how all that money will be allocated in the next biennium.

Never mind the months spent putting together an executive budget by Gov. Ernie Fletchers administration. Never mind the weeks spent on the budget by the House budget committee. Never mind the additional weeks of work by the Senate budget committee.

It all comes down to 12-hour days behind closed doors, with the aim of producing a compromise to be voted on by both the House and Senate tomorrow.

We have nothing against compromised: Its what effective representative government is all about. Kentuckys own Henry Clay virtually invented the concept that succeeded in delaying the Civil War by two decades.

But effective compromises on spending priorities and billions of dollars require time and thoughtful deliberation. We dont believe thats possible in a span of barely 72 hours.

It also is irresponsible when you consider the wasted early weeks of a legislative session in which nothing of any substance is done while legislators wait for the filing deadline to pass to know what sort of opposition they will have.

While important legislation on everything from seat belts to helmets for ATV riders hangs in the balance, legislative leaders of both parties are totally preoccupied with budget matters.

The responsible way to prepare a budget is to establish hard rules that the governor must propose a budget within 10 days of the General Assembly opening. The House is given 15 legislative days to send its budget to the Senate, which then would have 15 days to pass its version. That leaves a final 15-day period to hash out differences in a reasonable manner, plus a five-day cushion to consider vetoes and last-minute business.

And if that timetable requires difficult decisions and votes for some before the filing deadline, thats tough. After all, thats what these people are elected to do in the first place.

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