As expected, Beshear use of line-item veto sparks discussion

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) – As he promised Friday, Gov. Andy Beshear kissued item vetoes Monday for parts of budget bills passed by the Kentucky General Assembly.

He said the vetoes are to ensure he has the flexibility to continue Kentucky’s response to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

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And now, the vetoes are sparking discussion on several fronts, especially among members of the Republican-led Legislature.

The vetoes did not remove any specific appropriations, the governor’s office said in a statement. Instead, the new governor struck language that would “limit his flexibility” to respond to the coronavirus crisis or would “hamper the normal activities” of state government, his office said.

Lawmakers passed a slimmed-down budget because of the pandemic.

Beshear’s vetoes came one day before lawmakers reconvene Tuesday at the state Capitol to wrap up this year’s legislative session. The session has to conclude by the end of Wednesday. The coronavirus outbreak curtailed the number of days lawmakers met in March.

During their wrap-up proceedings, lawmakers will decide whether to try to override gubernatorial vetoes. They also could vote to pass other bills awaiting final action.

One of Beshear’s line-item budget vetoes dealt with the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System’s medical insurance fund. He said he struck language instructing that any excess state General Fund contributions to the insurance fund be carried forward to the following year.

In his veto message, Beshear said that provision “fails to live up to” the state’s commitment to meet its obligation to retired teachers’ health care.

The governor said he also vetoed language that would divert $1 million from the total amount that coal-producing counties receive in coal severance tax revenue.

Beshear vetoed other provisions that he said would hamper computer services at a time when the state faces unprecedented requests for assistance from Kentuckians as the coronavirus damages the economy. He also vetoed language establishing a renewable chemical tax credit.

He also vetoed a provision that would give the state treasurer authority to approve the use of state aircraft by cabinet secretaries for out-of-state travel. Beshear said in his veto message that he has pledged to provide “the most transparent documentation” on use of state aircraft that will go “above and beyond the statutory requirements.”

Another veto drew a rebuke from the state’s Republican secretary of state. Beshear struck provisions stating that the secretary of state would have to approve any changes to an election made by a governor during a state of emergency.

In response, Secretary of State Michael Adams said in a statement: “Rather than building a bipartisan ‘Team Kentucky,’ the governor has misused his power to keep a Republican –- the chief elections official and a seasoned election professional –- from participation on the team.”

The legislature’s wrap-up session comes at a time when the coronavirus continues to spread across Kentucky. The House and Senate are scheduled to convene at midday Tuesday.

When they last met, Kentucky lawmakers took unprecedented steps to change their way of doing business to keep their distance from each other.

But the governor said Monday that lawmakers should limit their business to matters such as veto overrrides and wrap up quickly as possible.

“Anything else, they shouldn’t be doing and I’m going to have a pretty high bar for anything else that they pass when just being here puts them at risk, puts their families when they come home at risk, puts their community around them at risk,” he said at his daily coronavirus update.

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Beshear’s office issued the following statement on the vetoes:

“Beshear made several line-item vetoes in the budget. There were no vetoes of specific appropriations, only to language that would limit his flexibility during this unprecedented time to respond decisively in battling the coronavirus or that would hamper the normal activities of state government.

“Gov. Beshear said all Kentuckians are making sacrifices in response to COVID-19 and one of the unfortunate sacrifices is the education-first budget he proposed in January that would have given teachers a much-needed $2,000 raise and increased per pupil spending.

“Right now and in the coming weeks and months we need everyone to continue making sacrifices and doing their part as a member of Team Kentucky to fight the coronavirus to limit the spread and save thousands of fellow Kentuckians, Gov. Beshear said.

Click on the links to see the veto messages for: HB351HB352HB353HB354HB356.

The legislature reconvened for its final days April 13 through 15, where members are likely to consider action on any vetoes. The House and Senate can override any vetoes issued for bills passed on April 1.

During his briefing Monday, Beshear warned if lawmakers wandered off to other measures besides vetoes, he will set the bar “very high” on whether he vetoes those provisions.

“We still are in the surge and we don’t need people coming from all across the state and being together,” Beshear said. “They need to do what they are supposed to do and go home.”