Editorial: Shutdown the only way to force legislators to pass a state budget

July 11, 2004

Common Cause of Kentucky has the right idea about the state budget.

The government watchdog group has been allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed in Franklin Circuit Court by Attorney General Greg Stumbo over Gov. Ernie Fletcher's executive spending plan.

The Stumbo lawsuit challenged the governor's right to suspend state laws involving such things as state worker raises and the state employment cap.

The Common Cause argument is more to the point: That organization claims that it is unconstitutional for the governor to spend any money not appropriated by the state legislature.


A court ruling in favor of the Common Cause argument would be a harsh remedy for a sick state government. Since the state legislature adjourned in April without passing a budget, technically no state funds have been "appropriated" and state government would have to shut down.

But that harsh remedy is just what state government needs. This spring's fiasco was the second time in recent years that state legislators have gone home without passing a budget, leaving it up to the governor - the last time it was Paul Patton - to decide how state funds are allocated. As long as legislators can abdicate their responsibility for passing a budget without catastrophic results, such as a government shutdown, then they are likely to continue to pass the buck to whoever is governor.

Under the current setup, legislators get to have their cake and eat it, too. They can go up to Frankfort for legislative sessions, draw their pay, have their fun, do nothing and return home. Despite their fecklessness, state government will go on pretty much as normal.

We doubt if they would be so nonchalant about their responsibility to the people of Kentucky, however, if legislators knew that state government would shut down at the beginning of the next fiscal year and they would be held responsible.

That's why if the courts don't eventually rule that the governor can't spend money that the legislature doesn't budget, Kentuckians ought to seek passage of a constitutional amendment to that effect. That would appear to be the only way to force state legislators to do the job the voters elect them to do.

Central Kentucky News Articles