Fletcher Says Kentucky Can Afford More Projects

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher, fresh off a trip to
meet with Wall Street bond agencies, said Wednesday he thinks
Kentucky can now afford more of the pricey projects he dissected
from the state budget earlier this year.
Legislative leaders seem on board, especially considering early
projections that the state is likely to have about $279 million
more come into its coffers than was expected. Fletcher said that
after recently meeting with representatives from three bond
agencies, he's "more confident" Kentucky can afford the new debt
from the projects.
"I feel more comfortable with those projects now than I did a
year ago," Fletcher told reporters.
Kentucky lawmakers approved an $18.1 billion two-year budget
earlier this year, but Fletcher subsequently cut out about $370
million worth of projects across the state. Buoyed by the projected
surplus, lawmakers seem ready to spend at least a portion of that
$279 million on restoring what the governor vetoed.
The legislature adjourned the 2006 regular session without
allowing enough time to reconsider any of Fletcher's vetoes.
Some of the university projects Fletcher vetoed included $4.9
million to renovate a nursing building at Kentucky State
University, $5.3 million for an Eastern Kentucky University dairy
research project, $13.5 million for a livestock disease diagnostic
center at the University of Kentucky and $26 million to build a
parking garage at the University of Louisville.
Fletcher, among other things, also blocked student housing
projects at EKU, Morehead State University, Northern Kentucky
University and Murray State University.
The projects would have been paid using university-issued bonds,
not the state's General Fund. Fletcher has previously said he was
concerned that added debt by the institutions may have affected the
state's bond rating.
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the General
Assembly approved the projects once, and he was inclined to
continue supporting them.
"I think that we could afford them when we passed them, and we
can afford those projects now," Williams said.
Despite the anticipated cash infusion into Kentucky's state
government, Williams said he was not keen on adding new projects
that weren't already cleared by the General Assembly.
"I'm more inclined to review the budget that was previously
presented and take a look at the projects that were vetoed,"
Williams said.
House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the money
lawmakers approved for education projects was "crucial." New
university buildings, many of which would have been paid for with
bonds issued by the schools, were necessary, Richards said.
"I believe that the House and Senate will join together to
restore all of the worthwhile projects on our state university
campuses that were vetoed after the 2006 session," Richards said.
"None of these buildings were frill buildings."
Fletcher said he didn't make the cuts based on merit but on
preserving the state's credit. Now Kentucky is in a better
financial condition with an improved debt ratio, and the projects
should be reconsidered, Fletcher said.
"It was never a question about the quality of the projects,"
Fletcher said.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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