Kentucky Club for Growth
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March 31, 2008

Transparency, Shmanceparency

The General Assembly has again gone behind closed doors to hammer out the final details of a budget. It's ridiculous that lawmakers believe that the most important part of the budget process ought to be conducted in secret.

The budget fight has elicited this bizarre comment from former Fletcherite Brett Hall:

The press corps need to ask themselves whether it serves the public interest more for the legislature to deliver an on-time budget or for conferees to make TV news more interesting with clips of their bickering in the committee meetings. With only four legislative days remaining in this session, they likely can't have it both ways.

Brett's a nice guy, but he's offering us a false choice between having a budget on time (and secretively negotiated) versus no budget at all (with total transparency). Government transparency exists for the purpose of government accountability. Transparency is not its own reward and it's not good for its own sake.

The state budget is, without question, the piece of legislation for which legislators should be held most accountable. The fact that it ought to be done in daylight is nothing more than the price you pay for running around the state begging for votes (and campaign funds) so you can do the people's business in Frankfort.

If you're not interested in doing your job in the light of day, your constituents should be wondering how interested you are in keeping your job.

Grandstanding aside, most lawmakers like the fact that budgets are negotiated in secret. They may wring their hands and whine that the leadership crammed the budget down their throats and they simply "had to vote for it," but the fact is that most lawmakers simply aren't interested in taking a responsible stand on behalf of open and accountable government when it's easier to cave to pressure from leadership to shut up and obey.

When your legislator votes for the budget (and he/she probably will), ask if they had enough time to read it. If the answer is "I didn't read it, but I voted for it," then you need to scan your local community for a better candidate.

March 24, 2008

Priorities, please

From the Associated Press:

A Senate spending plan to run state government for the next two years would release up to 2,000 felons from prison and put them into home incarceration or drug treatment programs.

The plan would allow for the release of nonviolent and non-sexual felony offenders and place them in drug treatment programs or home monitoring programs. State government could save up to nearly $50 million over the next two fiscal years under the proposal, lawmakers said.

To all those lawmakers who crammed an arena down Louisvillians' throats (that they really weren't really jazzed about, anyway), I ask this: Did you really want to release felons to pay for it? Even if many of these felons shouldn't be in prison in the first place, it's a tough political sell to Kentuckians, and for good reason.

This is why Kentucky needs a tax and expenditure limitation: Priorities would necessarily emerge if lawmakers knew going in exactly how much they could spend. Arenas would have to take a back seat in this case.

Here are two podcasts (one, two) on state spending limits from Michael J. New at the Cato Institute.

An On-Time Budget?

From the State Journal:

Despite having different opinions, leaders in the House and Senate say they can create a budget without a special session.

The legislature failed to pass a budget in regular session in 2002 and 2004. Public financing of political campaigns was the key sticking point in 2002. In 2004, lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement on proposed tax reform.

Think back to 2006. The budget that passed that year was a massive, bloated spending plan with $3.8 billion in new debt. The only way lawmakers got a budget passed was to hide in a room for a week or so and hammer out the details while the rank and file lawmakers were kept in the dark about the budget's contents.

Ernie Fletcher then signed the largest budget in Kentucky history into law. If this year's budget is smaller, it won't be because lawmakers decided to take it easy on taxpayers. It will be because taxpayers are already tapped out.

March 4, 2008

Moberly and 'Revenue Enhancers'

A bill to give lemurs tax breaks passed out of the Kentucky House budget committee today. (HB262)

Why?

It's a vehicle to enclose tax increases foisted upon the full Kentucky House by committee chairman Harry Moberly.

Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that this piece of legislation is most likely to end up as a tax increase. (I know, I know)

Did anyone on the committee express any objection that the bill under consideration is fundamentally different from the bill they'll eventually see on the floor of the house? Probably not, given that the lawmakers in the committee chuckled and joked about the bill.

That bills go to committee before they come to the full chamber is a function of having some degree of expertise applied to legislation before a terrible piece of legislation can become law. It's precisely the purpose of committees to raise credible objections to legislation before it goes further down the road to passage.

Unfortunately for Kentucky taxpayers, committee members abrogated their duty to make sure that the bills they consider are in the best shape before their fellow lawmakers vote on them.

Moberly, instead of giving his committee a chance to vote on substantive legislation, denied them the opportunity to vote against a tax hike and made his committee a sad farce. 

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