From Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
Nearly two weeks in, the 2012 General Assembly seemed slow coming together. Its first and most immediate challenge – state-level redistricting – was reported bogged down in predictable political concerns. Deeply ominous but deeply vague early warnings from the Beshear administration about the budget situation left lawmakers pensive, waiting for specifics in the governor’s Budget Address. Anything but speculation on the much-trumpeted casino-gambling proposal was hard to come by.
The big engine of a full 60-day Legislature idled.
But the session suddenly lit up in near late-session mode this week when a House committee — and quickly, the next day, the full House — passed a reapportionment plan for itself that would (among other surprises) force at least a half-dozen Republican incumbents to run against each other, should they all survey the redrawn electoral landscape and seek re-election.
The House plan would also create seven open seats, and pit a second-term Republican incumbent against the Democratic majority floor leader (a 25-year veteran) in a redrawn home-district re-election battle.
Republican House leaders protested. Democrat House leaders pled demographic necessity. A court challenge – not uncommon in redistricting disputes – was immediately mentioned, and is now being explored. But the proposal passed 63-34, on a mostly party-line vote. Five Republicans voted for it. No Democrat voted against it.
The bill went on to the Senate, where passage at this point seems likely under a House-Senate white flag, an agreement to not tinker with each other’s reapportionment maps.
Redistricting of House, Senate and Congressional districts is a once-a-decade Constitutional requirement. States must adjust district lines to account for population changes or shifts identified by the most recent U.S. Census.
Redistricting, always, is a blistering process for a legislature. Political futures are on the line and sometimes ended, old district friendships and allegiances are riven, long-term lawmaker-constituent relationships are torn asunder. There’s rarely if ever a painless reapportionment. And it’s not simply party-vs.-party strife. Even within majority caucuses who control the process, members can be deeply divided when the knife falls on home turf.
All this is especially true in the Kentucky House. Its districts, being much the state’s smallest, (with only about 42,000 people as opposed to well over twice that in a Senate district and over 723,000 in a Congressional district) tend to be the most interpersonally connected.
But large district or small, there’s one axiomatic truth. If, as Tip O’Neill said, ‘All politics is local,’ you could add a close corollary: ‘All redistricting is personal.’
Nor is it easy to meet the strict legal requirements for successful remapping. Not infrequently, court challenges are filed, legal problems are found, and plans must be redone. It’s gritty, unpleasant and plain hard work. But it’s also central to good representative government.
The end goal is to draw cohesive and population-balanced districts so every Kentuckian has equal representation in Frankfort and in Washington. True North in the process is, always, the insistent, longstanding Supreme Court mantra: One person, one vote.
Coming into the session, there was a felt need to accomplish redistricting quickly, before the filing deadline for the November elections at the end of this month — although that’s a practical and political concern, not a legal one. The Senate is expected to take up its own redistricting plan shortly, and, as mentioned, there seems to be agreement between chambers to accept each other’s new self-drawn maps without objection.
The same can’t be said about a Congressional reapportionment plan passed by the House earlier this week that generated no detectable enthusiasm among Senate leaders. Therein might lie the most bruising redistricting struggle of this year’s session. News yet to come on that front.
Meanwhile, the ‘wretched’ budget situation outlined glumly but in no real detail by the governor in his State of the Commonwealth speech last week means almost any action needing money is on hold till the governor submits his budget proposal next week.
At that time, with all cards turned up and all chips on the table, the Legislature’s budget-writing subcommittees can begin work in earnest, and the session will gear down to its core winter’s work. Writing a two-year state spending plan is the central chore of a 60-day session.
Speaking of which, there was a bit of good money news last week. This year’s state revenues are up over last year, and on track to meet projections. It seems likely the Legislature will avoid the double whammy of dealing with a current budget shortfall while looking down the barrel of major shortfalls in the budget it’s writing for the next two years.
Kentucky’s general fund grew by 6.9 percent last month over December a year ago, the state Budget Director reported. This was seen as a nice turnaround after two consecutive anemic-growth months for state revenues.
Through the first six months of the current fiscal year, general fund revenues have grown by 3.1 percent over the same period last year. Revenues must grow by 2.8 percent over the full 12 months to meet revenues assumed in the current state budget. That means incoming receipts need to grow by 2.6 percent in the remaining six months to pay for what’s budgeted, a number that now seems doable.
Also in December, revenues into the state Road Fund grew by 13.3 percent compared to the same period last year. This in part reflects higher gasoline prices, but it’s good news nonetheless. Anything on the plus side is, as digging out of the Great Recession continues.
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The Legislature’s website — www.lrc.ky.gov – includes comprehensive information about legislators, the legislative process, and the progress of work during the session. Contact numbers, daily meeting schedules, bill summaries and full texts, bill status information, and other information to get you involved are all posted there.
To leave a message for any legislator: 800-372-7181
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The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission (LRC) was created in 1948 as a nonpartisan, fact-finding service agency. The commission operates as the administrative and research arm of the General Assembly. LRC provides these regular news updates during the annual Kentucky legislative sessions.