According to the Chinese zodiac, 2015 is the year of the goat. According to the Kentucky Constitution, it’s also the year that the Bluegrass State gets a new governor.
Since governors must hit the ground running in order to present a biennial budget to the General Assembly shortly after Election Day and the beginning of a new legislative session – as required by state statute – it’s helpful, if also a bit odd, that the state Constitution deems the inauguration be held in December.
Section 73 directs: “The Governor and the Lieutenant Governor shall commence the execution of the duties of their offices on the fifth Tuesday succeeding their election, and shall continue in the execution thereof until a successor shall have qualified.”
Some are rightly concerned that Steve Beshear, current holder of the office just across the hall from the capitol rotunda, has executed the duties of his office and then some.
They point to his Obama-esque decision to act without legislative approval when creating a government-run health insurance program and expanding a Medicaid bureaucracy that creates tenuous hope among the nearly 900,000 recipients – which the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange reports via email have enrolled in the program since October 1, 2013 using the exchange – that they will actually receive care along with a card.
Some of us who came along before political correctness made it generally uncool to raise the question of whether a popular politician’s actions were actually constitutional wonder: How can a state’s chief executive bring an unpopular president’s health-care fiasco into our midst and then force the citizenry to pay for it without so much as a vote from the people’s representatives?
Distaste for Beshear’s brash violation of the important constitutional protections provided by the separation of powers is bipartisan. An 89-11 vote in the Democratic-controlled House and a 37-1 tally in the Republican-dominated Senate were cast in favor of inserting into the state’s two-year budget bill a measure prohibiting the use of general funds for Obamacare and its related programs.
“The Governor is expressly prohibited from expending any General Fund resources on any expenditure directly or indirectly associated with the Health Benefit Exchange,” it said.
It remains to be seen whether the courts will defer not to the executive but to the representatives of the people to whom belongs the constitutional duty of making – and then being accountable for – expenditures of taxpayer dollars.
What doesn’t remain to be seen is the fact that Beshear and President Obama both have articulated that sometimes constitutional restraints on government must be twisted, stretched and ultimately broken – especially when it doesn’t jibe with their grandiose vision of redistribution and equality.
“In the end, this is always about priorities,” Beshear once said. “It’s always about priorities. Is the healthcare of our people one of our top priorities? It is mine.”
However, the “priority” of fixing Kentucky’s health-care problems shouldn’t be considered mutually exclusive of constitutional government – especially by a governor who takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. That means respecting the separation of powers – especially the role of the legislature in making the decisions concerning expenditures with taxpayers’ dollars.
That document is not a ceremonial symbol to be viewed nostalgically and adhered to only when convenient. Heeding, defending and respecting it should, in and of itself – and according to the oath taken by the officer holder – be the top priority to which all other “priorities” must bow.
There are plenty of constitutionally sound ideas available for addressing the thorny challenges of how to deal with preexisting conditions and crowded emergency room visits – including health savings accounts for the poor (that could actually encourage doctors to start accepting Medicaid patients again since they know they wouldn’t be relying on a hostile and bloated bureaucracy for reimbursement) and allowing Kentuckians to shop across state lines for the insurance that best fits their needs.
In fact, these ideas would go much further in effectively addressing Beshear’s “priority” of health care than bypassing our Constitution and the principles for which it stands ever could.