Governor Ernie Fletcher’s Communication Office
Governor Fletcher's Address on the Budget of the Commonwealth
Tonight, I want to talk with you about our Commonwealth's Budget and address some important questions:
So many of the goals we pursue,
the critical services we depend on
and the investments we make
depend on the budget of the commonwealth. . . .
It is our single most important piece of legislation.
In January, I laid before the legislature a budget that was efficient, responsible and progressive.
It reflected an unprecedented commitment to training and educating our people, the modernization of health services, and to the efficiency of government services.
I encouraged legislators to work collaboratively with me and with each other.
They did and the result is the General Assembly's first “on-time” budget in six years.
Now it is time, again, for me to fulfill my responsibilities . . . to review the budget they adopted and ensure it advances the mission
you empowered me to pursue.
I have studied it thoroughly.
It includes the overwhelming majority of the programs and initiatives I recommended.
Legislators on both sides have properly called it the strongest education budget since 1990.
And all of this was achieved without increasing taxes because many of these initiatives will be paid for with funds achieved by our savings and efficiency.
There are still some areas in the budget with which I respectfully disagree. But for the General Assembly's wisdom and stamina in advancing these initiatives, I want to express the gratitude of all Kentuckians.
Let's turn now to the legislature's list of projects for infrastructure, university buildings, roads and technological investments.
These projects, and the loans we take to pay for them, are potent medicines.
The right dose can give us new energy . . . but too much can cause irreparable harm. Clearly, the General Assembly's list of 2,352 projects would make us borrow more than we can afford.
The projects in last year's budget broke all previous records, borrowing $1.9 billion.
But this budget, about 12 months later, has even more than that, with nearly $2.4 billion of additional debt.
We all know that debts must be repaid.
That's why excessive debt can make government unresponsive to new challenges and new opportunities in the future.
Just as heavy cargo makes ships float lower and more vulnerable to high seas, too much debt also increases risk.
The next time storm clouds hang over our economy, we will have to choose between tax increases and cutbacks in critical services. And for that purpose, I appreciate the legislature for increasing the Rainy Day Fund.
And there is not a parent or grandparent within the sound of my voice who wants to leave a generation of young Kentuckians saddled with excessive debt.
Every family rejoices and makes sacrifices together. For the good of the state... and more importantly... for the children of Kentucky, we must manage our budget the way you, the taxpayer, manage your finances at home...with care and consideration.
I will not criticize any of the projects which the legislature selected.
But to reduce the level of debt, we must reduce the number of projects.
To do that, I carefully studied this budget.
I have spoken with many legislators, university presidents and community leaders.
But mainly I have tried to approach this task with clear thinking and common sense.
My selections have been guided by three principles: job creation, regional equity and most importantly, improving your quality of life.
By my veto, I am reducing our debt by about $370 million, while still providing more bond funding for universities and community colleges than any budget in the state's history, including last year's.
Let me address one project that has recently captured the attention of many, the grant for a pharmacy school at University of the Cumberlands.
The fact remains: Kentucky has a shortage of pharmacists, particularly in Southeastern Kentucky. Also, the tax dollars to build this school come from coal severance tax and not directly from the taxes you pay.
This is a difficult issue and one where there is no definitive case law establishing the legality.
I believe we need to answer once and for all in Kentucky the legality of funding private faith-based institutions for public purposes.
For that reason I will not veto this project. However, before any money is released to the institution, I am asking the courts to determine the constitutionality of such projects.
As to the remaining projects in the budget, the level of debt is still more than twice as I proposed in January. . .and, frankly there remains some danger to our credit rating.
But I have taken the views of the legislators into account and my actions reflect a genuine and legitimate balance between their perspectives and mine.
As to the remaining debt, we will diligently manage it. These actions will give us a budget that will advance the best interests in balancing the needs of our communities and our debt level.
I have been selective in my vetoes and I look forward to answering questions about them as I meet with Kentuckians in the coming days and weeks.
Regardless of my differences with the legislature regarding the level of debt, I applaud their work in successfully completing an on time budget to help move Kentucky forward.
It is an honor to serve as your Governor and may God bless you and your families. Thank you.