FRANKFORT — Deciding which side was playing politics Friday with speeches about the state budget and next week’s schedules is probably like the old Pete Seeger union organizing tune: “Whose side are you on, boy? Whose side are you on?”
Friday began with speeches in the Senate complaining about the pace of budget deliberations with Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, repeating a frequent Senate complaint: that the Democratic-controlled House was taking too long before sending the Republican-controlled Senate a budget.
(The constitution requires that bills dealing with revenues, taxes and spending originate in the House.)
Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, responded by saying Republican leaders had a copy of the governor’s budget proposal but still hadn’t scheduled a meeting of the Appropriations and Revenue.
A&R Chairman Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, wasn’t present but Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, a member of the committee said committee members had met many nights to discuss the budget.
“There may be members of the majority party meeting,” Blevins responded, “but there has not been but one meeting when members of the minority party were there.”
Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, reminded a reporter that during an era when Democrats controlled the state Senate, then budget chairman Mike Maloney, a Democrat, “used to lock the budget in a room” and late in the session present his version of it for passage.
A short time later in the House, Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he felt “compelled to speak on an issue that is concerning to me,” going on to say that while the 60-day legislative session is just over half complete, “we are yet to discuss the governor’s budget.”
He warned colleagues that the public is never unhappier with lawmakers than in the years they failed to pass a budget, requiring a subsequent special session to perform the one legislative duty specified in the constitution.
But his next comment probably did more than anything said Friday to explain all the speeches. Hoover “urged (Democratic leadership) to schedule an A&R meeting for 10 a.m. Tuesday” – the regular committee meeting time.
But that just happens to coincide with a Tuesday political event in Louisville: former Democratic President Bill Clinton is scheduled to make a public appearance and attend a private fundraiser at the Galt House on behalf of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Doors open at 10:30 a.m. for the event.
Grimes is expected to win the Democratic primary and square off against Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell in the fall. McConnell faces a primary challenge from Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin but McConnell is favored to win that race.
Hoover didn’t mention the Clinton appearance Tuesday. But his comments prompted House A&R Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, to say that the Democrats are following the usual budget schedule.
“We are meeting on time; we’re on schedule; our (budget) subcommittees are meeting,” Rand said. He also reminded colleagues the Senate already a copy of the governor’s budget and that in recent years the Senate has passed its version of the budget out of committee on one afternoon and on the floor the next.
“We don’t do it that way over here,” Rand said. “We give it a full and open hearing.”
But subsequently as the House prepared to adjourn until Monday, Rand announced the A&R committee will meet Monday at 2:30 p.m. rather than on its usual day of Tuesday.
Asked if the speeches about the budget schedule had more to do with the budget or with Democrats’ wishing to attend the Clinton event Tuesday, Hoover smiled and said: “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters it is likely the House will alter its usual weekday meeting schedule, convening at 4 p.m. Tuesday rather than the usual 2 p.m. That should allow Democratic lawmakers to make the Clinton event and return for that day’s legislative work. He also said that day’s committee meeting times may be adjusted for the same purpose.