Here it is Friday, the intended final day of the special session, and legislators are still snarling over the battered remains of the state road plan, trying to decide what should have been decided a week ago. Their time costs $60,000 a day.
The state’s operating budget cleared the regular session with relatively little hassle, probably because funding was too meager to produce serious disagreements over the fiscal choices. The state transportation budget is another matter. The state Senate passed a road plan but Senate President David Williams held up approval of a budget to fund the work, fearing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear would veto specific allocations the Republican leader wanted for his district.
That’s exactly what the governor did anyway, although not in the manner Williams envisioned. Just as Beshear engineered an end run on last year’s Medicaid budget by persuading the House to approve everything the Senate president wanted with the understanding that a gubernatorial veto of unacceptable parts would follow, the governor this time wielded his veto power on the road plan approved by the Senate. He chopped $50 million in work Williams sought for his district. While the Senate leader complained Beshear lacked the legal authority to employ that tactic, he said he wouldn’t contest the maneuver in court and expected the Senate would now pass the transportation budget. But a Senate committee muddied the water Thursday, putting the vetoed projects back in the bill.
Williams condemned the road plan vetoes as “an extremely partisan and vindictive move” by the governor but said he’d forgive Beshear for a “final act of political vengeance.”
This one episode has produced more personal invective between the two men than the entirety of last year’s gubernatorial campaign, in which Beshear decisively won reelection over his Republican rival. Seemingly unhumbled by defeat, the senator remains a thorn in the governor’s side.
When Beshear called the special session a week ago, he complained that Williams continues to defy the will of the people.
“He (Beshear) is a very poor winner,” the Republican leader retorted. “He is a small, petty and vindictive individual.”
After Wednesday’s vetoes, the governor issued a statement charging the Senate president unfairly moved his pet transportation projects to the head of the line, flouting the priorities of other legislators and the Transportation Cabinet. However, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that on a per capita basis, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s district got more than twice the road funding Williams sought for his constituents and fared much better than other Kentucky counties, including Franklin.
“They sprinkled money everywhere, and then the governor picked me out to try and demonize me,” Williams complained.
It’s an argument the Senate president could have made less expensively by accepting the inevitable before the impasse that led to the special session. He has a chance to redeem himself now by working out a deal on the other item of unfinished business from the regular session: the prescription drug bill that attempts to rein in the pain pill abuse that’s killing three Kentuckians a day. This session ought to achieve something more beneficial than highway politics as usual.