Legislative Redistricting During Budget Times

Feb 6, 2012

For weeks, negotiations between Senate Republicans and House Democrats over new legislative, judicial and congressional districts have diverted their attention. Time spent on those tasks is time not spent on budget writing.  But, despite the delays and hard feelings, legislative leaders still say they can agree on a new budget.

It’s been a long weekend away from the capitol for Kentucky’s legislature.  They took Friday off and many won’t return to Frankfort until this afternoon.   Then, there’s tomorrow’s filing deadline for state offices.  It was pushed back a week so a judge can evaluate the constitutionality of new legislative districts.  That’s prompted more delay. Until these politicians know more about the opponents they may face in the fall elections, House Speaker Greg Stumbo says many will postpone action.   Nevertheless, these delays don’t seem to worry Kentucky’s governor.

“You know this process goes on every ten years and it’s always a partisan process..and always a very difficult process for folks to handle and people tend to get over it after the results are final and so I’m assuming that that will happen again,” said Beshear.

The budget proposed unveiled by Governor Steve Beshear in mid-January still awaits action in the lower house…where committee hearings are underway. 

Under state law, the state senate cannot act until the House approves a budget.  Traditionally, that happens in early March.  While redistricting has drawn out the process and created some hard feelings, Senate Minority Floor Leader R-J Palmer also believes they can agree on a spending plan.

“Well I say it may take time away from us on focusing on those very important issues..there will still be plenty of time to do this…ok…we still have ample amount of time to take care of what we’re sent here to do and that’s number one pass this budget…so will it make it more contentious ..quite possibly..but not to the point that we can’t accomplish it,” said Palmer.

Republicans may lead the state senate, but, Independent Bob Leeper chairs the Senate’s budget committee.  Leeper agrees friction between parties may persist.  But, he also predicts, the budget job can get done.

“It’s possible there’s individual thoughts along that line, but I think for the most part, majority of people, once we get settled in to the budgeting process they’re gonna be looking at the significant issues they’re gonna come together and try to come to a solution,” added Leeper. 

There’s another reality lawmakers must face.   Once redistricting is finalized and the filing deadline has come and gone, the legislature’s incumbents must plot their re-election strategies.

Sheila Shuster has advocated for the mentally ill and disabled community for some 30 years at the state capital.  Shuster suspects the approaching campaign season will motivate lawmakers.

“We’ve got primaries coming up in May, we’ve got an election in November and my guess is that legislators who have a seat that they’re gonna run for will want to wrap up their business and their business…their number one priority is gonna be the budget,” said Shuster.

Still such failure is common in Frankfort.  Since 2000, the legislature has failed to pass a budget in regular session three times.  In 2008, lawmakers need a special session to hammer out a pension bill.  And last year, they wrestled with Medicaid issues.  As for this year’s budget, they have until mid April when the regular session is scheduled to end.  If an agreement is not reached by then, yet one more special session would likely be held before July.