There has been a lot of legislative teeth-gnashing in the days since Gov. Ernie Fletcher used his line-item veto power to reduce by about $370 million the huge new debt the General Assembly put into the 2006-2008 budget.
If anything, of course, Fletcher didnt go far enough. The approximately $2 billion in new debt he left in the budget to pay for projects across the state still represents a historic amount on top of the historic $1.9 billion in new debt added in the 2004-2006 budget passed only last year.
But legislators mostly Democrats, but some Republicans as well who are complaining about Fletchers vetoes have no one to blame but themselves.
They dawdled around the Capitol for weeks on end without doing much of substance, keeping sharp eyes on possible opposition in the November legislative elections. They waited until the last possible moment to pass House and Senate versions of a budget. Then Republican and Democratic leaders of both chambers spent so long closeted in secret negotiating a compromise that they left no time in which to consider overriding Fletchers vetoes.
House Speaker Jody Richards now concedes that was a mistake. Veteran legislative leaders dont make that kind of mistake and retain their positions very long.
In effect, the House and Senate abrogated their constitutional right to have a final say on the budget, thus depriving their constituents of their final say on the matter of debt and new projects,
Some legislators are promising to put the vetoed projects back into the budget when they meet next year in the short odd-year session. That wont be easy, since it will require large majorities in both chambers to accomplish.
But if that, in fact, happens, it will be proof that Kentucky lawmakers of both political parties have become so politically addicted to borrowing billions to build monuments in their districts that the fiscal welfare of the commonwealth no longer is of any concern to the General Assembly.