Though the unconstitutionality of this action was pointed out when it occurred, few had the political will or clout to push the issue, especially in light of a very contentious legislative period.
Now fast forward to Monday, April 29, the 11th business day after the "official" end of the session. Steve Beshear decided to veto HB 79. But according to the Kentucky constitution, the governor had only 10 days after the session, excluding Sundays, to use the veto pen. The governor's office claims that April 29 is actually the 10th business day because the legislation was literally passed after midnight on April 16, and the governor didn't receive it until the next day, though the time stamp reads 11:55 on the 15th.
So did the bill pass before or after midnight? Was it vetoed on the 10th day or the 11th day after the session was over? Has Jody Richards invented a time machine? Has the governor traveled in it? This is the kind of time warp problem that would give even avid Star Trek fans a headache.
House Bill 79 is important because it is the bill that contains most of the road and transportation construction projects. Senate Republicans removed some of the projects that the governor requested before voting on the bill, and now they blame this action for Beshear's decision to veto the legislation all together. But this move provides another interesting advantage to the governor. He can now use the appropriation of road funds as a political weapon.
The next day after the legislative session, Gov. Beshear was already talking about calling a special session back to Frankfort to "raise revenue." We all know that this is government speak for raising taxes. Most Democrats agreed with Republicans that higher taxes would not be the answer to Kentucky's economic problems. So, with no strong sentiment to act on raising the cigarette tax or other taxes, a special session could be a wasted effort, unless, of course, you had a powerful political weapon.
Could that be what the governor has found with his veto of HB 79? Or was he just mad that he didn't get his own pet projects, as the Republicans claim? (Perhaps his anger has some justification.)
But with control of all of the money for road projects across the state, the governor now wields the ultimate big stick. Should he choose to swing this stick for votes, he will most likely hit a home run.
To the rest of us, he can claim that there just isn't enough money to finish this project or that one. But we all know that the best way to get a legislator to be on your side is to threaten to take away their special projects. To his credit, the governor claims he does not intend to use the funds in this way.
This still doesn't solve our constitutional problem, though. Either all of the bills that were passed after true midnight on April 16 are unconstitutional and therefore are null and void, or the governor was a day too late in vetoing this bill. In this case, it may actually be both, hence the constitutional conundrum. Two constitutional wrongs don't make a right.
But while we're distracted by constitutionality, Frankfort could be busy lifting our wallets.
Under the watchful eye of concerned Kentuckians, the tax monsters were beaten back and were unable to get away with their planned taxpayer pilfering. But as this case of constitutional ambiguity undoubtedly points out, whether our taxes remain at current levels or go up exponentially depends upon the constant vigilance of the people of the commonwealth.
Leland Conway is executive editor of www.conservativeedge.com
and host of "The Pulse of Lexington" on 630WLAP. You can reach him for comment at Leland@wlap.com.