The final day of this year’s legislative session offered more drama than a teenage girl’s slumber party. There were pillow fights and goofy games but little to resemble serious efforts to implement the substantive policies needed to make Kentucky more competitive.
On the April 14 edition of KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” show – the eve before the commonwealth’s Constitution required the legislature to adjourn sine die – I was asked to grade lawmakers on their performance during this year’s session.
I graded on the curve: “C-minus.” But after the “horse trading … by four or five,” as House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, described the session’s final evening – when lawmakers were forced into votes on bills they barely had time even to glance at – I revised my grade to a generous “D.”
The only reason it’s not a totally failing grade is because the legislature did pass a state budget and road plan before its adjournment deadline. And they did it without supporting a gas-tax increase championed by big spenders in the House.
Still, the drama combined with the lack of progress in key areas significantly lowers the grade.
While the state Senate gets credit for stopping tax increases and wasteful spending bills advanced by the House, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, just couldn’t resist attending the end-of-session party.
After the House failed to pass legislation known as “the heroin bill” that would have expanded treatment capacity for drug addicts, toughened penalties for dealers and allowed needle-exchange programs for addicts, Stivers in a demonstration of full-blown overreaction raised the possibility of a special legislative session just to pass the drug bill.
Stivers calls it “tragic” that the bill didn’t pass. He thinks taxpayers would count the cost of a special legislative session – $325,000 a week – funding “well spent” to “do something to stop or curb this problem.”
The drug problem is tragic. The loss of life it causes is tragic. But is it really “tragic” that this particular law didn’t pass?
Would it really be “tragic” if taxpayers were not forced to pay for a special legislative session – especially for a bill the Senate passed months ago and sent to the House? Should we taxpayers be penalized and forced to pay for an additional session just because the politicians couldn’t get a bill passed within the constitutionally allotted time?
It’s also an appropriate question for Gov. Steve Beshear, who’sreportedly considering a special legislative session with the goal of forcing all Kentucky taxpayers to participate in funding the renovation of Lexington’s Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky basketball Wildcats.
Beshear pressed the project during the final hours of the session even though the city’s political leaders failed to reveal a financing plan, claiming that UK doesn’t want a tentative agreement reached with Rupp “made public.”
Supporters of this project offer the same recycled public-relations talking points we often hear about these types of ventures that usually center on over-stated promises of “increased investments in the community.”
Even if such promises of economic vitality rang true, taxpayers at the very least should not be forced to pay for a special legislative session with so many unanswered questions and nearly as many secrets.
A greater cost than the price tag of a special session dominated by a drama-driven agenda in its final days may be the missed-opportunity costs of failing to move policies down the field throughout the entire session that would make Kentucky competitive once again, including reforms of our state’s tax code, pension system, public schools, telecom regulations and legal policies.
No special legislative session is necessary for these issues, either. All that’s needed is for lawmakers to lose the drama, do their jobs and earn an “A-plus” from their constituents.