By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — Well, at least the tone has improved.
Predictably, the 2013 General Assembly reached the final scheduled day for passing bills and suddenly lawmakers snapped into action, passing a flurry of bills in rapid succession.
Few of them addressed major issues facing the legislature — pension reform, inadequate revenue – or even politically manufactured issues like taxing districts, hemp and military voting which garnered so much attention as the session began.
Thursday night we re-lived the annual ritual in which lobbyists and rank-and-file lawmakers ask reporters what will happen — as if Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker Greg Stumbo or Gov. Steve Beshear confide in us.
All reporters could tell them was that it was inevitable the two chambers would recess for the University of Kentucky basketball game. Some things never change. (Unfortunately this year, neither do the Wildcats, who lost again.)
Stivers, Stumbo and their leadership teams were summoned to Beshear’s office while a reporter camped outside on the marble bench. Another reporter wondered aloud why they hadn’t done this earlier in the session when there might have been time to work out their differences before they found themselves deadlocked and up against the clock.
Stumbo said it was an “unfair question,” commending Beshear and Senate leaders for their “sincere desire” to avoid a special session. Stivers — who to his considerable credit is more responsible than anyone for the improved tone — returned the favor, avoiding any criticism of the governor and House leaders.
The leaders were to confer again Friday about how to proceed on pensions, the issue on which the two chambers can’t agree. Stivers and Stumbo expressed confidence they could yet somehow reach a compromise on an issue on which they seem miles apart. People talked about allowing “the process to work.”
But as that process unfolded, a minority lawmaker walked by a reporter, smiling ruefully, shaking his head and mumbled: “This is a helluva way to run a train, isn’t it?” Another complained with obvious disgust: “We’re no different than Washington.”
As reporters’ deadlines neared, they struggled between their experience-tested belief that nothing important was likely to happen and their fear something inevitably would happen if they left early. What else could they do except stay and resort to Twitter?
There really wasn’t all that much to report.
So we wait, just as Kentucky always must wait, succumbing to the dark and sneaking suspicion that nothing really ever changes here despite all those speeches in the preceding 25 days about “moving Kentucky forward.” Talk about an oxymoron.
After years of refusing to make the required contributions to the pension systems, we’re surprised the system is in trouble and we wring our hands about the prospect it will go broke. Despite untold millions in tax incentives — some prefer the term corporate welfare — unemployment is at 8 percent, we remain a stubbornly poor state and lawmakers cry the sky will fall in western Kentucky if two aluminum smelters close down.
After five years during which we cut $1.6 billion from the budget, a legislative leader yet again says: “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
Well, yes, we’re spending too little on education, child care, public protection and the environment while we spend too much on prisons, projects and asphalt.
Despite how often 139 leaders talk about “moving Kentucky forward,” she seems stuck in the same place, her people insouciantly determined to live in a past which no longer exists while the rest of the world moves on without us.
But, hey, the tone has improved even if conditions for our people haven’t.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.