As the Kentucky General Assembly convenes today for an off-year “short session,” Madison County legislators are hoping to revive three measures that Gov. Ernie Fletcher vetoed at the conclusion of the 2006 session.

With the state anticipating a surplus of $279 million this biennium, even the governor has said he would be willing to restore some of the $370 million in appropriations he excised from the 2007-08 budget with his line-item veto.

A $5.5 million appropriation vetoed last year would have combined the dairy herds of the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University at EKU’s Meadowbrook Farm. Another vetoed measure would have empowered the Kentucky River Authority to float $17.5 million in bonds to upgrade lock and dam No. 9 (Valley View) and No. 10 (Boonesborough). A third veto prevented EKU from selling $10 million in bonds to renovate student residence halls.

Both Rep. Harry Moberly (D-Richmond), chairman of the appropriations and revenue committee in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Ed Worley (D-Richmond), the Senate’s Democratic floor leader, say they will work to restore all three.

Upgrading the locks and dams is crucial for preserving the long-term water supplies for Madison, Clark and Fayette counties, Worley said.

Neither chamber of the legislature will vote on legislation until February, however. First, both houses will elect leaders and make committee assignments this week..

Worley said he is confident of being re-elected as leader of the Senate’s 16 Democrats. The chamber includes 21 Republicans and one independent.

“I know Harry Moberly will remain as chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee,” Worley said. “Rep. Moberly is respected by members of both parties and by the Fletcher administration.”

Moberly said he believes Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster), who represents Berea and southern Madison County, and Rep. Don Pasley (D-Winchester), who represents the northeastern tier of the county, will remain on the panel that plays a critical role in state spending.

After committee assignments are made, committees in both houses will spend about three weeks reviewing legislative proposals and holding public hearings, Worley said.

Action on legislation will begin when the session’s 30 working days start counting down in early February, he said.

While they are concerned about the needs of their districts, both Worley and Moberly said they would be in no rush to spend the expected surplus.

“First, we’ll need to verify the surplus, review the long- and short-term requirements of the state pension funds and consider any emergencies,” Worley said.

“Just because we have a surplus, we don’t have to spend it,” Moberly said. “I’d like to preserve as much of it as we can.”

State government “is very blessed to have an expected surplus,” Worley said. The coal industry, Kentucky’s top income-producing sector, is enjoying strong prices, he said. “Cattle prices have remained strong and have kept our agricultural sector doing well. Good prices for cattle have helped offset lost income from tobacco.”

And Kentucky’s tourism industry also continues to grow, he said.

Worley also credited cost-cutting measures in state government during the lean times of 2000-04 with helping create the current surplus.

“You might be able to find an isolated example of waste here or there, but any fat in the state government budget is gone,” he said.

The generous appropriations for roads and other public projects in Madison County passed during the 2006 session were justified by the county’s rapid growth and the services it provides for the region, Worley said.

“People from 12 counties work, shop, go to school or receive health care in Madison County,” he said.

Legislators from prosperous counties such as Madison must remember that “we are one Kentucky,” Worley said. “Many counties in Kentucky have high rates of unemployment. We have more Kentuckians on Medicaid than we have students in our public schools.”

Lawmakers also should keep the state’s long-term needs in mind as they consider what to do with the surplus, Worley said.

“Coal is a resource that won’t last forever. And our manufacturing jobs are always in danger of being moved overseas,” he said. “That’s why we must invest in the right types of education — strong programs in math and science — so that our young people can compete with workers in other countries. If we provide quality education for all of our young people, then all of Kentucky can move forward together.”

Moberly said he expected no action to be taken on proposals to amend the Kentucky Constitution and open the door for casino gambling.

“There may be some hearings (on casino gambling) this session, but the earliest any amendment could go on the ballot is 2008,” Moberly said. Unless Kentucky elects a governor in 2007 who is a strong advocate of casino gambling, no constitutional amendment to allow them is likely to get through the General Assembly, he predicted.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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