By RONNIE ELLIS
No one goes broke being a cynic in Frankfort. But these days, one might want to hedge his bets just a bit.
Last week in this space I said I was skeptical of talk of comity and bipartisanship preceding the 2013 General Assembly. But give credit where credit is due.
New Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, seems intent on making good his promise for a more cooperative tone and honest dialogue between “all interested parties on big issues.”
He’s had some help. Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, proposed a joint lunch between Senate Republicans and Democrats and their respective staffs. Stivers seized upon the suggestion and the two sides sat down and broke bread together. Stivers allowed Democrats to make their own committee assignments.
The following day, Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, took to the floor to praise Stivers, Senate President Pro Tem Katie Kratz Stine, R-Southgate, and even conceded in his youth he might have voted for John Sherman Cooper, Kentucky’s most revered Republican after Lincoln himself.
Gov. Steve Beshear had lawmakers over to the mansion. He and his staff used to laugh derisively at lawmakers and say they were happiest after legislators left town “so we can get back to governing.” Now he says he’s looking forward to the session for the first time in five years.
Stivers, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and lawmakers from both parties on Thursday joined Beshear and presidents of state universities to announce a bipartisan agreement to allow the schools to bond long needed capital projects.
The bonds will be paid off with university-produced revenue — not direct tax dollars. It’s a process used in other states and one which Kentucky’s university presidents have asked for repeatedly. In the past, Senate Republicans were reluctant to provide that authority, claiming it could adversely affect the state’s debt ratio and bond ratings.
While the purpose of the press conference was to announce the projects and how they’re to be funded, there was lots of talk about bi-partisanship. Even the presidents got in on the love.
Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews said he looks forward to a legislative session “where we can work together for the benefit of Kentucky.” I asked Andrews who or what was responsible for all the good feelings.
He nodded at Stivers who he said has changed the attitude and tone.
Now remember: this is Frankfort and I said a cynic might be wise to hedge his bets. I didn’t suggest he turn in all of his chips just yet.
All these smiling, back-slapping pols have yet to confront the big issues on which Stivers has promised dialogue.
Stivers and Republicans in both chambers want to take on the underfunded state pension system now and head on. Democrats aren’t quite so enthusiastic. Stumbo and Beshear are asking from where the money will come to do it.
While both sides seem in agreement on taxing districts and military voting procedures, those are fairly easy. They’re not in agreement on tax reform, Medicaid, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or redistricting — or even when to take up the question of re-districting. There remain wide differences on expanded gambling.
House Democrats just went through close and bruising leadership elections. There are wounds to salve and rewards and punishments to hand out. Frankfort is full of people who have one eye on their next re-election campaign and the other on the next political office which they view as a step on the way to becoming governor.
So for now, enjoy the good feeling. But you might want to hedge your bets.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.