Issue April 4, 2006

General Assembly winners, losers

With a few days left in the session, lawmakers have a tentative budget, and the winners — the University of Kentucky and public school teachers, chief among them — are coming into view.

Organized labor was the first big winner, as House leaders pronounced Gov. Fletcher’s trouble-twin initiatives — (1) to allow employees to join union shops without paying union dues and (2) to rescind the prevailing wage law — dead on arrival.

Louisville Metro was triumphant, with funding for the Ohio River bridges and the U of L arena in the budget. Rep. Larry Clark (D-Okolona) dropped his bid to link funding to the old Louisville Water Co. site. However, he, David Jones and John Schnatter made the point that their venue of choice, three blocks from the Arena Authority’s riverfront choice, could save taxpayers $114 million but was never duly considered amid an anything-but-transparent process micromanaged by authority Chairman Jim Host. After a career in communications, Host’s mishandling of the authority amounts to nothing less than a meltdown.

The legislature showed progress this session in its avoidance of social issues, the likes of which have entangled lawmakers in divisive debates. There were a few skirmishes over teaching intelligent design (some call it creationism) in science classes, but a constitutional amendment that would kill fairness ordinances lacked traction to clear the Senate, where it originated.

Two clear winners in the House were Reps. Robin Webb (D-Grayson) and Tanya Pullin (D-South Shore). Webb, a coal-miner-turned-lawyer, helped make this session a milestone for mine safety. Democrats are assessing this hard-working, articulate, smart and bipartisan woman’s prospects for a statewide run. Pullin’s stock also rose. She took the lead on legislation to boost Kentucky’s competitiveness in a multi-state bid for $1 billion experimental energy initiative. The FutureGen project intends to create the world’s cleanest power plant by converting coal into a hydrogen-rich gas that would produce electricity or fuel for pollution-free vehicles.

BY STEVE SHAW
leo@leoweekly.com