Stateline Story

Kentucky Legislators Target Lieutenant Governor

Kentucky, like most other states, has had to make deep budget cuts. One easy target for legislators was the one officeholder lacking specific constitutional duties - the lieutenant governor --

In the political bullseye was Democratic Lt. Gov.Steve Henry, who called the move to reduce his staff and perks partisan and personal. Though Republican lawmakers wanted even greater cuts, a Democratic-controlled House and Democratic governor Paul Patton, who twice ran on a ticket with Henry, agreed to a budget eliminating Henry's mansion staff, his security detail and his chef.

That saved $286,300. Senate Republicans tried and failed to also take away Henry's office staff, car and state-provided residence, which they said would save $1.5 million. In the midst of a $400 million Kentucky budget shortfall, the savings is a drop in the bucket but it has seeded doubts about whether the lieutenant governor's office is needed at all.

Republican Senate President David Williams said the office serves mostly as a "death watch." Democratic House Speaker Jody Richards said it should havesome specified duties beyond serving at the discretion of the governor. Even Patton who used the lieutenant governor's office as a stepping stone to the state's top elective position has gone as far to say "We shouldn't have a lieutenant governor."

Henry contends he has done a lot, taking the initiative in getting funding for the state's veterans, health care programs and promoting a national gun lock program.

But he concedes his official workload is only as heavy as the governor wants it to be. "If the lieutenant governor's job is to be in the wings and to serve at the discretion of the governor, you're going to be hard-pressed to take on additional responsibilities," he said.

Kentucky's lieutenant governor used to run independently of the governor and serve as president of the state senate. But in 1992 the state constitution was amended, putting the state's number two office-holder on the same ticket with the governor and leaving him or her with no other duties than to serve at the governor's discretion.

Henry earns $91,075 per year, a salary that puts him above the mid-range for lieutenant governors. But his state-provided residence is a perk that few of his counterparts in the 42 other states with lieutenant governors enjoy (In Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, Maine, New Jersey, West Virginia and Tennessee, either the secretary of state or the Senate president takes over if the governor doesn't fulfill his or her term.)

The old governor's mansion, which was erected in 1798, has served as the lieutenant governor's home sinve 1956 and is currently undergoing a $2 million renovation. According to the Kentucky Historical Society, it is the oldest official residence in the nation.

Henry's staff consists of a chief of staff, two administrative assistants, a mansion director, a press secretary, a chef and a server.

Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, said it was unusual for Kentucky to make its number two official the target of an economy move.

"I'm not aware of these types of dramatic cuts nor the near elimination of staff in any other states. Since states have had hard fiscal times and homeland security issues, the role of the lieutenant governor in nearly every state has increased and in some states increased quite considerably," Hurst said.

But David Winder, a political science professor at Valdosta University in Valdosta, Ga., last year completed a national study ranking lieutenant governors on a scale of one to seven, based on effectiveness and duties.

Kentucky's lieutenant governor got a two, putting him below the 3.5 point average, Winder said.

Henry insists his job involves more than making speeches and cutting ribbons. He points out that he served as chairman of the NLGA from 2000 to 2001.

"The last three years have been public policy (oriented)," Henry said. "As I became more accustomed to government, I became more policy driven. The staff has really become accustomed to doing everything.... We know of no lieutenant governor with these strains on his staff."