By Ronnie Ellis/CNHI News Service
State House Republicans have a long way to go if they want to become the majority party in the House of Representatives where Democrats presently hold a 65-35 margin.
But Republicans have some ideas they want to push if they pick up the 16 seats they need to take over — and those same ideas just might help them pick up a few of those seats.
Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, surrounded by about 20 members of his caucus and another 20 Republican candidates who want to join them, gathered in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to announce they’ll file legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from being paid for a special session to pass a state budget if they failed to pass it in the regular session.
Another measure would require any bill that raises taxes or spends tax dollars to be available for inspection by lawmakers and the public a full 48 hours before members vote on the bill. Hoover said Republicans will “in the coming weeks” offer other legislation to force state agencies to open their books to the public online, to streamline Medicaid, to close “loopholes” in the state pension system.
“If we are the majority,” Hoover said, “we will carry out our duty to pass a budget. We as House Republicans are ready to lead our state in a new direction.” He criticized the budget passed this year by House Democrats — and rejected by the Republican Senate — which would have borrowed about $1 billion for construction of schools and infrastructure projects.
Hoover said “the liberal Democrats in the Kentucky House” voted to borrow $1.2 billion and to increase state debt and increase taxes on small businesses, noting that only one Republican voted for the measures.
“People no longer have faith in their leaders and by and large have a deep mistrust in government,” Hoover said. “It’s because government is out of control, in Washington and here in Frankfort.” He said if the voters make Republicans the majority party, they are prepared to make government more accountable and “make some bold decisions and take bold action that’s been lacking for so long.”
Hoover wouldn’t say how one chamber could guarantee passage of a budget if the other declined to go along with its version, saying he couldn’t control or speak for the Senate but a Republican-run House will pass a budget. But the Democratic controlled House passed a budget this year – it just wasn’t one the Senate was willing to pass.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Prestonsburg, sees things differently of course. It was Stumbo who pushed the spending plan that would have borrowed money to build schools and water and sewer projects, a plan he termed a “jobs plan” for Kentucky families.
“Kentucky has lost 100,000 in the Republican recession, so I’m proud the House Democrats took steps this year to help as many as 25,000 families get back on their feet,” Stumbo said in a prepared statement.
Hoover said the measure to strip lawmakers of their pay in special sessions to pass a state budget will likely require a constitutional amendment, but he thinks it’s one that will pass. Lawmakers got an earful this past spring when they left town without an enacted budget when the Democratic House and Republican Senate couldn’t reconcile differences between the budgets each passed. A common complaint was that lawmakers failed in their duty to pass a budget in regular session and shouldn’t be paid for the ensuing special session.
The other measure he planned to pre-file would require a 48-hour period for review of any legislation that would spend or raise tax money. Lawmakers often complain they are asked to vote on a state budget in the final hours of a session without knowing some of the items it contains. That complaint isn’t restricted to Republicans, either.
The other measures Hoover said Republicans will propose would require all state contracts to be subject to open bidding; require state agencies to post online all expenditures and transactions; streamline Medicaid by extending managed care programs to more areas of the state; and end “double-dipping” where state workers retire, collect their pension but return to work and earn a second salary. Hoover said the bill would also stop lawmakers from calculating their legislative pension using three years of higher salaries at other state jobs.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.