Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How kosher is the highway bill veto?

Twice in recent years, the General Assembly adjourned without a budget and the governor implemented an executive spending plan to keep Kentucky's state government going. It happened during Paul Patton's last biennial session and again during Ernie Fletcher's first session.

After the 2004 session, when the legislature failed to enact a budget and Fletcher implemented a spending plan, the act was challenged in court. By the time a decision was rendered, in 2005, the legislature had passed a budget, but the court decision basically said that state government cannot legally or constitutionally operate without a legislatively-enacted budget.

That leaves us with all kinds of questions about yesterday's veto by Gov. Beshear of the legislature's highway bill.

Beshear says the bill unfairly restricts the way the Transportation Cabinet can spend construction dollars, and it allows the inclusion of projects that may not be funded but are still a priority for the administration, and Jody Richards agrees with him.

This year's Six-Year Road Plan angered a number of people because it omitted a significant amount of projects, including some much-needed safety and economic development projects in Republican areas of the state that had been championed by governors such as Patton and Jones as well as Fletcher. Beshear says that after his veto, he'll instruct Transportation Secretary Joe Prather to author a highway plan that includes legislative as well as administration priorities, and that it will include some projects for which funding is obviously not available but it will keep them in the pipeline.

Senate President David Williams is questioning the timing of Beshear's veto as well as the constitutionality of an executive highway spending plan not approved by the legislature.

We certainly applaud the re-inclusion of a number of the dropped project -- but we'll have to wait a couple of months for Prather's final plan -- but not at the expense of constitutionality.

We aren't convinced that the state can legally follow a road construction plan that has not been approved by the General Assembly. We'll be watching to see how this plays out in the courts.


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