(Perhaps I am giving him to much credit, he seems a bit confused these days. Interesting comments celebrating "family-owned" education, the primacy of "efficient" education, and my favorite: "We (in the governor's office) don't decide how the pie is cut up," Fletcher said. "We simply decide how big the pie is.")
Fletcher defends budget to students - Protesters stand silently near regional Republican dinner.
Writer: Shelley Byrne
2/5/2006 Paducah Sun
MURRAY, Ky. -- Before rallying western Kentucky's Republican leaders at a Lincoln Day Dinner, Gov. Ernie Fletcher met for half an hour with Murray State student protesters and answered their questions about the budgeting process.
Fletcher addressed about 15 Murray State students. They had gathered to protest what they, along with interim Murray State President Kern Alexander, describe as inadequate university funding in Fletcher's proposed budget. Student Government Association president Scott Ellison said they were particularly concerned that tuition would rise as a result.
"We respect the governor and know he has a tough job," Ellison said. "We're just asking that he continue to support us and keep tuition low."
The protesters stood on the Curris Center's second floor, one floor below where the Jackson Purchase Republicans' dinner was being held. They silently held homemade signs. Some read "Please Give Us More Funding," "Murray State Needs Funding For Better Future" and "Support Low Tuition at MSU."
Fletcher told the students that Murray's funding is determined by a formula approved by the Council on Postsecondary Education in which schools doing well compared to benchmarks receive less funding.
"We (in the governor's office) don't decide how the pie is cut up," Fletcher said. "We simply decide how big the pie is."
When students asked why the third phase of Murray's new science building was not included in the budget, Fletcher said other projects, such as West Kentucky Community and Technical College's emerging technology center, were more important for immediately addressing economic development needs.
"It's not as critical timewise as that technology center, and that was my decision," he said.
He added that MSU's science center is important and will be funded in next year's budget if no more funds become available this year.
"Phase 2 (of the MSU building) has not even broken ground yet," he said. "it's not like we're shortchanging students. It might be delayed a little."
Executive Cabinet Secretary Robbie Rudolph, a Murray businessman, added that the administration had $937 million to spend on bonded projects but $3.5 billion in requests.
Fletcher said, "We didn't pick out Murray State and beat on you."
What is unique is Alexander's response, he said.
"The style of how he's trying to get improvements is just so out of order compared to other university presidents," he said. Fletcher said the question students should be asking is, "Are you operating efficiently down here?"
Fletcher spoke at the dinner along with Rudolph; U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville; and White House adviser Scott Jennings, a Dawson Springs native.
Master of ceremonies Ron Beaton said dinner organizers had a welcome problem.
"It used to be that we'd have 125 chairs set up and you could count the Republican candidates on one hand," he said. "Tonight we have a wonderful problem: we have too many to mention."
Instead, candidates were recognized by county alone. About 350 people attended the dinner.
Fletcher began by saying it was great to be back at Murray State , "family-owned and operated since 1994," referring to the administrations of Kern and his son, F. King Alexander.
He talked about how his administration had worked to make a more efficient government. Former Gov. Paul Patton's administration had predicted a $1 billion shortfall in summer 2005 if taxes were not raised, he said. Instead, the state had a $214 million surplus.
Fletcher also talked about his goals for the legislative session, including repealing prevailing wage laws, and investing in primary and secondary education to help make Kentucky students more competitive with those of other states.
Fletcher said Rudolph had "taken a lot of hits lately, very undeservedly." Among Rudolph's accomplishments were collecting more back-taxes than had been collected by any other administration.
Rudolph avoided mentioning Kern Alexander, instead praising Fletcher for sticking to his promise of not raising taxes.
"We're not going to borrow our way into prosperity," he said. "We're not going to tax our way into prosperity."
Jennings, deputy White House political director, said western Kentucky's 1st Congressional District had one of the strongest Republican grassroots organizations in the country.
"We have come a long way, but there is much more to be done," he said.
Jennings also touched on national campaign issues, such as permanent tax cuts and domestic spying.
"The president's actions are legal and perfectly acceptable under the Constitution," he said.
When it comes to campaigns across the country this year, he said repeatedly, Republicans will be ready.
Whitfield said the Republican Party's strength is the talent of those within it, including those in the 1st District. He said it was important to keep working hard: "When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber," he said, quoting Winston Churchill.
Those parrots include Democratic leaders and maybe even Kern Alexander, he said, citing Alexander's disagreements with Fletcher over the university's funding.