Gov. Ernie Fletcher came through Monday with his pledge to cut the debt-ridden budget enacted by the General Assembly earlier this month.
Fletcher used his line-item veto to eliminate $370 million in construction projects that relied on borrowed money. Still, even with those historic cuts, the budget Fletcher approved calls for borrowing about $2 billion, itself a historic high only a year after the General Assembly added $1.9 billion in new debt for the 2004-2006 budget period.
At best, then, the debt reduction can be seen as more window dressing than a serious effort to cut runaway legislative borrowing for construction projects.
Certainly, many of the projects Fletcher vetoed are reasonable. The commonwealth has muddled by for more than two centuries without a polar bear exhibit, and it will continue to do so without a $6 million polar bear exhibit at the Louisville Zoo. And with a $75 million state appropriation for a new basketball arena for the University of Louisville Cardinals, an additional $16.1 million for a separate Cardinal practice facility would have been a bit much.
But some of Fletchers vetoes, in contrast to appropriations left in the budget, are more than baffling.
Fletcher let stand the constitutionally questionable appropriation of $10 million for a pharmacy school at the private, Baptist-affiliated University of the Cumberlands, but cut $4.9 million for expansion of nursing education at Kentucky State University, an existing, quality program with a waiting list of applicants. The shortage of trained nurses in Kentucky is every bit as acute as the shortage of pharmacists. And if Fletcher were to drive to the KSU campus during school hours and try to find a place to park, he likely would understand exactly why he should not have vetoed $7 million to build a parking garage on campus.
As for Fletchers veto of $17.5 million for renovations of the locks and dams on the Kentucky River, there remains more than $30 million in work the Kentucky River Authority is able to finance through water user fees all along the river.
Kentucky lawmakers put together their budget the way a shopaholic with a wallet full of credit cards goes on a spree at the mall. Fletchers vetoes cut up only one of those credit cards, leaving the rest nearly maxed-out for the next two decades.