Friday, July 06, 2007

Speaker Jody Richards' full floor speech

(This one is definitely worth posting it in full. I don't think that I've ever been prouder. Now, can the Senate adjourn to because Gov. Fletcher is WASTING our hard-earned tax dollars to deal with issues he needs for his re-election campaign?!? Give me a break!)

By Jody Richards

Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House:

I take the unusual step of rising to address this body on a simple but important question: has the Governor justified calling the General Assembly into special session at a cost of 60,000 dollars per day to the Kentucky taxpayer? Anyone who has followed events since the Governor first threatened a special session knows that the answer to this question is a clear and resounding "NO."

The framers of the Kentucky Constitution set an incredibly high bar for calling Legislative sessions outside of the normal schedule. Now that we hold a regular session every year, the bar should be even higher. As stated eloquently by the Hon. W. H. Mackoy addressing the delegates at the 1891 Constitutional Convention:

"It is to be presumed, I think, when the Legislature is convened in special session, that it is so called in pursuance of some emergency, some public demand that is urgent, and that the Governor, knowing the wishes of the people and understanding fully the emergency, will call the Legislature in special session only when it is absolutely necessary that it should be done."

Those words of wisdom were spoken over a century ago, but they are just as relevant today. We must take these words to heart as we consider what I believe is a radical if not an unprecedented departure from the original intent of the Framers of our constitution.

The Governor's so-called emergency is his claimed need to pass an energy bill to attract companies to invest in alternative fuels production in Kentucky. But that claim leaves a false impression that Kentucky has fallen behind on this issue. In fact, records from the National Conference of State Legislatures show that only four bills specifically addressing alternative energy have passed state legislatures over the past five years, and Kentucky passed three of those. We have been very active on this issue.

But we in the House know better than anyone how important it is for Kentucky to pass another good energy bill. It is the House which historically has shown all the leadership on this issue.

Majority Leader Rocky Adkins led the charge to pass House Bill 299 in 2006, and built upon this success by fighting for the passage of House Bill 5 last session. We made this bill part of our Family Agenda and did everything in our power to see that it was passed. We received no help from the Governor or the Senate. On the contrary, the Governor stood idly by while the Senate Republicans killed House Bill 5.

It is the most ridiculous of ironies to see the very same Governor now making energy incentives the centerpiece of his call for a special session. It is beyond audacious for the Governor to attempt to manufacture an emergency out of an issue he ignored just three months ago.

This leads me to a second question: What has changed to make this more urgent between the time the Legislature adjourned in March and the time of the Governor's proclamation? Nothing has changed. No emergency has arisen.

In fact, the claim of an urgent need to pass a bill is blatantly contrary to the cold hard facts which have piled up in recent weeks. Initially, the Governor presented us with several letters from energy companies requesting that the Legislature to pass energy incentives to compete for their business. These vague letters were obviously solicited by the Governor to supply a flimsy pretext to call a session. And if you read them, you will see that they fall very short of proving that waiting until January to pass energy incentives would doom our chances to attract an alternative fuels plant. Those letters made no firm commitments to locate any plants in Kentucky. Yet the Governor has demanded we come into extraordinary session and commit Kentucky to tax incentives with no assurance of anything in return. Calling a special session based on vague speculation about future benefits is simply not good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Only later did we learn that three of these energy companies had already signed multi-year deals with the Commonwealth worth almost 2.5 million dollars, contradicting the Governor's claim that Kentucky could not be competitive without immediate Legislative action. The existence of those contracts prove that unbiased experts are right when they say that Kentucky's unique geographical and geological attributes are the most important factors in energy investment and siting decisions.

And just yesterday it was reported that incentive packages in our neighboring coal states are not so generous after all – West Virginia in fact offers no incentives to build coal to liquid plants.

In all the many hours of public presentations by the Administration, these highly inconvenient truths were withheld from the Legislature and the public. It took open records requests, diligent reporting, and relentless research for the true facts to come to light.

In the absence of reliable information from the Governor, the House did its own investigation. At a hearing held last Thursday, we learned from an unbiased expert in the energy field that the crown jewel of the Governor's proposal – the 3 billion dollar coal to liquids plant – would not be feasible to build without securing enormous federal incentives that the U.S. Senate has decisively rejected, and which Congress is in no mood to provide for the foreseeable future. But the Governor continues to ignore reality on this issue.

Rather than attempt to respond to the mounting evidence of no emergency, the Governor has simply changed his position. Contrary to what we heard in Northern Kentucky two weeks ago, we are now hearing that it is not a coal to liquids plant that the Governor is in such a hurry to attract – it is actually a coal to natural gas plant which will not produce a single gallon of transportation fuels. The obvious problem with this new line is that it contradicts the Governor's repeated assertions that urgent action is needed this summer to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and address high gasoline prices.

When gubernatorial politics are taken out of the equation, we all know that the Legislature will be able to timely address this and all other important issues when we convene the regular session in January. And as I have repeatedly stated, the House stands ready to make a letter commitment to provide appropriate incentives to any energy company which is ready to make a commitment to Kentucky. Similar letters of commitment were used to attract investments from UPS last year, and previously Toyota, GE and Scott Paper.

I had hoped that the Governor would finally acknowledge the stark reality that passing an energy bill this summer is not an emergency and that passing it right now with no guidance from Congress could be enormously counter-productive. My hopes were dashed when we received the proclamation two days ago. Like many of you, I was shocked to see that the energy issue had been relegated to a mere two inches of a five page proclamation call.

A member of the Governor's own party has stated quite candidly that this laundry list could take 8 weeks to sort out. I agree. By my count, that adds up to almost 2.5 million dollars of taxpayer money which may be squandered addressing issues which should have been handled in past sessions had the Governor shown leadership and kept his veto pen in his desk. But it is obvious that we can easily consider every one of these issues next January without harming the public good.

To take just one example, we recently learned that the Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed that federal funds for the runway extension at Bluegrass Airport will not be lost by waiting until January to make a state appropriation for the project. The story is the same on each and every issue which has been held up as a pretext for immediate action at taxpayer expense.

Rather than attempting to explain why these scores of projects and proposals rise to the level of emergencies, he has simply labeled them "important" and casually suggested we also take care of them while we are here on the energy issue. Not only does this show no concern for the enormous daily cost of a session, it also flies in the face of the constitution. The Framers did not intend for Governors to identify a single emergency issue as a pretext to shoehorn myriad non-emergency issues into an extraordinary session. Rather, they specifically warned against lumping in dozens of local projects which would unduly lengthen the session at taxpayer expense.

In my more than twenty years in House Leadership, I have always opposed any special session in which the items to be discussed had not previously been agreed upon. The Governor agreed with this approach when, based on prior agreement between the Administration, the House and the Senate, we were able to pass important AMC legislation in a short five day session.

It has always been accepted that a Governor must reach agreement with both Houses of the Legislature concerning the subject matter of the call prior to calling us into session. Doing so ensures that the session will run quickly and smoothly at minimum taxpayer expense.

Here that has not happened. There has been no proper communication or discussion with the House regarding the call. Instead, the Governor has selectively provided dribbles of information regarding his intentions on the energy issue, withholding material facts all along the way. As for the 66 other issues added to the call, the Governor told the House virtually nothing until he unveiled them two days ago. This method of doing business can only be described as bad faith toward the House. But the real victim is the Kentucky taxpayer who must foot the bill for days of review of legislation and negotiation which should have taken place prior to convening the session.

It is surely within the Governor's constitutional powers to call the Legislature into extraordinary session. But it is equally within the prerogatives of the House to express our disagreement with the Governor's ill-conceived call by refusing to convene ourselves any further. Our moral obligation is to do what is best for the citizens of Kentucky. We have a duty to protect the constitution from being manipulated for the sake of political expediency.

To lend any further credibility to this charade would set a dangerous precedent which I am sure we would all live to regret. That is why I am asking the House of Representatives to join me in sending to the Senate a concurrent resolution adjourning this session until January 8, 2008. I call upon the Senate to join us in adjourning this improper session. In addition, I respectfully ask you to join me in forfeiting the right to receive any salary or expenses from today until the session is adjourned sine die.

And let me be clear: The House will return in January to address each and every important issue facing Kentuckians, including placing Kentucky at the forefront of the alternative fuels revolution. Waiting a few months will not deprive the public of any benefits of important legislation, and the taxpayers will not have to pay a single additional penny of expense. Perhaps most importantly, the House will have enforced a bedrock constitutional principle by ensuring that future Governors do not toy with the awesome power to call an extraordinary session.

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