Coleman says partisanship on budget must stop

March 15, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - It is time to drop the partisan wrangling and address the issues that are important to Kentucky.

That's what Democrat Rep. Jack Coleman said today to counter claims by members of his party that he and five other Democrats had attended secret meetings with Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher to help the governor draft a tax bill and that he had betrayed his party.

Coleman said he was invited to the governor's mansion Wednesday night to discuss the bill and appeared with the governor Thursday at a press conference when the bill was introduced. He says that has been his only recent contact with the governor about the bill.

"When asked to attend the press conference, I believed we needed to break the logjam of partisanship on this session," the veteran lawmaker said. "It's probably the most contentious session since I've been there." Coleman joined the Legislature in 1991. He is not seeking re-election this year.


Newspaper reports said there had been a closed door meeting of the Democratic Caucus and that six of their members took a tongue lashing from party leadership. While reluctant to discuss caucus meetings, Coleman agreed and said he thought the meeting got out of control. "I would hope that issues like that would not get out of control anymore."

While Coleman denied holding secret meetings with Republicans and the governor, he could not speak for the other members painted with the same brush. "I'm assuming there was some of that done, but I did not realize when he invited me that there had been meetings for several weeks involving Democratic members."

In January, when the governor called all state lawmakers to talk about the issues important to each of them, Coleman says Fletcher mentioned his plan for tax modernization. Coleman said he replied at the time, "Governor, I would love to work with you on that."

"This is the first official plan ever presented on taxation since I've been there, to be perfectly honest with you," Coleman said.

"I was following the procedures that when a governor has a proposal to call legislators in to discuss it," Coleman said. "I felt it was important to show my support and that there were members willing to cross the aisle and support bringing this plan forward so we could begin deliberations."

One issue that needs facing is the change in the economy. Coleman pointed to sales of items by catalogue or the Internet that are not taxed. Cell phone bills are not taxed in the same way as land lines. The House approved a telecommunications bill in 1998 or 2000, but it was rejected by the Senate.

While tax reform or tax modernization has been discussed over the last several years, the General Assembly has taken no action to modify and expand the tax program.

"Absolutely," was Coleman's answer to being asked if he would take the same stand were he not closing out his career in the House of Representatives. "I've been willing to make this vote." He said the current plan lacks elasticity and has partly been the blame for the loss of revenue to the state.

"This didn't just happen," he said about the budget shortfall over the last few years. "We've been watching this for several years. We knew the shortfall was coming.

"What we do in this session will determine how Kentucky progresses over the next 10 or 15 years. If the economy takes off, we need to get poised to take full advantage of any growth. If we continue to tax tobacco, coal and Bourbon, we're going to be in the same shape we have been in."

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