In last week’s Thanksgiving column, I counted my blessings and urged readers to remind me when I begin carping again. I didn’t think I’d need reminding so soon.
I ended that column by noting some in Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration were hinting his second term would be different, that he’d shift from cautious caretaker to more aggressively confronting the state’s problems. So far, signs aren’t too promising.
Four months into the fiscal year, in which the budget requires Beshear to identify $190 million in savings, his budget director told lawmakers he will again require some agencies to cut spending by another 2 percent. But by exempting some services, the burden continues to fall more heavily on those which have already cut budgets by more than 20 percent while the recurring savings represent less than half of that total. That means much of the hole will remain in next year’s budget. There was no mention of increasing revenues.
Simultaneously, Beshear announced the state will finally end its resistance to releasing records in the deaths of children under the supervision of the state’s child protection services. At the same time, state attorneys were across town arguing before a judge the records should be heavily redacted. Later they backed off after the administration was criticized for withholding the information.
That same day Beshear’s Energy and Environment Cabinet fired Carl Campbell, its commissioner of Natural Resources, without cause or explanation. It could be because Campbell was a political appointee who wasn’t protected by the merit system law. Campbell supported Beshear in the primary and general elections in both 2007 and 2011, even donating to those campaigns.
He apparently took his job seriously, earning the respect of both coal and environmental interests. He was praised for fairness, consistency and honesty by Bill Bissett, head of the Kentucky Coal Association, coal field legislators Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, and Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard, but also by Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resource Council and Ted Withrow of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
Campbell’s performance perhaps wasn’t as appreciated by some companies he was monitoring or by Cabinet Secretary Len Peters – or maybe by Beshear, who received more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions from the coal industry.
Beshear said he will again push lawmakers to approve expanded gambling, the issue on which he campaigned in 2007 but which he hardly mentioned in 2011. A couple of Democratic legislators told me Beshear has told them his 20-point win over Republican Senate President David Williams is a mandate. But since he campaigned almost exclusively on how frequently he cut the budget during the first term and avoided debates with Williams and Gatewood Galbraith, it’s hard to say what the mandate is for unless it is that he can cut the budget just like a Republican and isn’t David Williams or Ernie Fletcher. Two previous attempts to pass gambling failed, one in the Democratic-controlled House and the other in the Republican-controlled Senate. Some House Democrats don’t want a constitutional amendment on the ballot in a year in which they face voters with an unpopular Democratic president at the top of the ticket.
But a constitutional amendment seems to have the best shot in the Senate. With a grim budget outlook and re-districting also on lawmakers’ plates, it looks like it will again be a contentious session in January. After the election, Beshear and Williams promised to sit down and discuss how they can work together – but they apparently haven’t done it yet.
Sorry for carping, but not much has changed has it?
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort