Editorial: Fletcher's budget will force an overdue 'pruning' of spending

January 29, 2004

Within hours of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's presentation Tuesday night of a $14.9 billion budget for the next two years, the Democrats in the state legislature were proclaiming loud and clear, like Chicken Little, that the sky is falling in.

But it won't fall, and when the smoke clears, Fletcher's budget will likely pass the General Assembly pretty much intact. Legislators in Louisville, who charged Wednesday that projects in their city and at their state university were getting short shrift, may end up getting a little more money than the budget proposes, but that extra money will come at the expense of some other university or some other region in the state.

The bottom line won't change, and that's because the governor, wisely, has taken the bottom line off the table. It's not negotiable. Fletcher has stuck by his promise not to increase taxes. So fight as they will over what money will go where, state legislators must face the fact that there will be no new revenue from increased taxes, and they must make the best of it.


Responding Wednesday to Democratic criticism of his budget, Fletcher pointed out the previous Democratic administration "spent all the savings accounts over the last few years. I came in with a billion-dollar crisis, and I think we've done very, very well in addressing these issues."

We would agree. Given the crisis that faced him, Fletcher presented the legislature with a budget that evenly distributes the cuts across the programs funded by state government. Even the proposed funding for public schools - which has drawn the most fire from critics - leaves basic school programs alone and even includes new money for a reading program for the early grades. Correctly, Fletcher's budget focuses on what's going on in the classrooms of Kentucky schools, rather than what's happening after school.

If we have one criticism of the governor's budget, it is that it sets 1.5 percent salary increase for Kentucky teachers next year but then tells the local school districts to pay for it. Although the term is a bit worn out at this point, that is, in fact, an "unfunded mandate." It's nothing the Democrats haven't done, and Gov. Paul Patton did exactly the same thing with teachers raises. But one would expect better of a Republican governor.

The bottom line is, however, the fact that the people who've been running state government for the past several years have been spending more money than they have been taking in. There are only two ways that kind of problem can be remedied: increase taxes or cut spending.

Fletcher has chosen the remedy that will work best for Kentucky in the long run: Force state government to use its resources more wisely. The state can't tax its way to prosperity. By definition, an increase in taxes would hurt the state's economy because would it take money from the hands of citizens that would otherwise be spent on goods and services.

Like Fletcher, we are convinced that state government is ready for "pruning." The inefficiencies that have accumulated during decades of one-party rule in Kentucky must be eliminated before the state's residents are asked to pay more for government.

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