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Freaky Friday: GOP-Led General Assembly Lines Up Against Bevin On Budget

Josh James
Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, argues against budget and tax bill veto overrides on the Senate floor on April 13, 2018.

The axiom that "politics makes strange bedfellows" held true in Frankfort Friday, with the GOP-led Kentucky General Assembly walking back sweeping vetoes of the entire two-year state budget and tax bill by a Republican governor and Democrats in rare alignment with their chief political foe.

Bevin's comprehensive vetoes came packaged with urgent pleas to reconsider both measures, in a special session if necessary, and overtures to chamber leaders to meet and "do this correctly." In a series of tweets posted during a fiesty House floor debate over the revenue bill, the governor made one final appeal.

"The people of Kentucky deserve nothing less. Transparency makes for good policy AND good politics. I have met with House and Senate leaders all week to propose more responsible ways to pay for 100% of the requested education funding," Bevin wrote, adding, "Crickets."

Bevin also took to Twitter with an attack on former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who rose to support the overrides. The governor blamed the lack of a special session on pensions on the chaos caused by Hoover's sexual harassment settlement.

Prior to the vetoes, Democrats and teachers stood in lockstep against the budget and tax bill they labeled backroom-crafted patchwork jobs, but with fewer than 48 hours remaining on the clock the minority party joined the governor in seeking to scrap the legislation – for starkly different reasons. Leader Rocky Adkins said Democrats preferred the special session option with its potential to produce bills more favorable to teachers and working families.

"I don't think we ought to take second best," he told WUKY. "I think we ought to get the best. And it's for our kids, it's for public education, and it's how we move Kentucky forward."

Democrats' stand ran counter, however, to the position adopted by the Kentucky Education Association, which represents teachers statewide. Many educators on hand for another round of demonstrations were hesitant to endorse the vetoes, voicing concerns that further delay could hurt schools and rob students of funding for critical services. Even so, complaints about the contents of the spending blueprint weren't difficult to find.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Red-clad demonstrators again register their disapproval of pension changes and education cuts in the state budget on April 13, 2018.

Paula Sapp, a retired elementary school teacher with 35 years experience, said she worries about future teachers facing the situation she did walking into a classroom in the 1980s to find "some textbooks that said some day man will walk on the moon. That's in 1985. So we're talking some real old books. Now there's no funding at all for textbooks."

But Republicans defending the budget and revenue bills as an imperfect but necessary mechanism to fund education won applause from teachers in the House and Senate galleries. Among them was Louisville Rep. Jason Nemes, who warned nay voters of dire consequences should they allow Bevin's vetoes to stand. 

"If you push that red button, you are not funding education," he said, debating the revenue bill lowering income taxes to a flat five percent and adding sales taxes onto more than a dozen services. "You can grab a bullhorn and put a cape on... but you're not funding education. This is an education bill. That's why our teachers demand an override."

And both chambers did so, despite the governor's admonition not to pass a "sloppy, non-transparent" tax bill. The budget measure soon followed suit, along with a vetoed measure designed to limit pension cost increases for local governments, school districts, and other entities.

"This is the first time I've seen something like this. It's unusual," Senate President Robert Stivers noted, casting the deciding vote reinstating the tax overhaul.

The drama unfolded amid another round of protests by Kentucky teachers, state workers, and their advocates. While state police limited the crowd inside the capitol to 500 for security reasons, hundreds of educators again covered the front steps and filed the state capitol building – with speakers instructing demonstrators to keep the pressure on lawmakers as several bills came up for votes.

"Jam their phone lines. Text them. Email them," one organizer instructed.

Lawmakers have one more full day left to pass legislation, including possible tweaks to the tax bill.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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