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Cuts for some, excess for others

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Editorial: June 17

By The Staff

 

Just how bad does this state’s financial situation have to be before officials in Frankfort really take it seriously?

Anticipating a $900 million shortfall in revenue over the next two fiscal years, the Legislature adopted a $19 billion budget earlier this year that included significant cuts for many state programs. Among the hardest hit were school districts, colleges and universities, children’s services and healthcare, and public defenders’ offices.

Schools in Hardin County, as their counterparts around the state, had no choice but to whack their already tight budgets risking the loss of teachers by offering token pay raises. Students attending Elizabethtown Community and Technical College will have to pay more for tuition and positions there will be eliminated, too. Statewide, the community college system has to cut 240 jobs to accommodate a $13.5 million reduction in financial help from the state.

Budgets for the state’s pride, the universities of Louisville and Kentucky, don’t have any money for faculty raises, either. Louisville will receive $6 million less from Frankfort; Kentucky $20 million.

Some 52,000 children eligible for health insurance coverage are not enrolled because of the lack of funding, according to the Kentucky Youth Advocates. Criminal convictions risk being overturned because of the lack of appropriate defense.

As difficult as the consequences of some of these and other budget reductions might be, most Kentuckians would understand and be willing to make the sacrifices and adjustments necessary to ride out such tough economic times.

That is, until they learned what really was going on in Frankfort while their schools at home were taking a financial beating, their college students were being forced to pay more for less, state health and social services were being slighted. Even while these vital state services were being reduced drastically, the Kentucky Senate was pushing on with the next phase of a plan to expand and renovate members’ individual offices at a cost of $448,997.

In addition to the cost of upgrading the offices of state lawmakers who are in Frankfort for relatively few days each year, taxpayers were paying an extra $400,000 in rent for the executive branch agencies kicked out of the space the senators coveted for their cushy offices.

Just try to imagine how many individual Kentucky taxpayers’ or small business’ taxes would be consumed by those unnecessary $848,997 expenses.

Once the media uncovered the plan and told the public about it, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who has never admitted the severity of the state’s declining revenues or that cuts cause any real pain, delayed the project.

Meanwhile, as education across the state was being tapped, Education Commissioner Jon Draud ordered a $30,700 Chrysler 300 for himself with nearly $13,000 in upgrades, including a global positioning system and handsfree phone. Again, once the media uncovered Draud’s extravagance, which he at first denied authorizing, the commissioner said he would pay for the extras out of his own pocket. Which, by the way, includes a $220,000 state salary.

The latest? While these details were unfolding, it was revealed by the media that Gov. Steve Beshear is planning to host a series of events at the Governor’s Mansion, the chief executive’s official residence, to raise funds for the State Democratic Party.

We could only guess what would have happened had the nosy news media failed to sniff out the self-serving waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money and published it. The plans likely would not have been altered. Nearly $1 million would have been spent to make state senators more comfortable while they are in Frankfort. (It likely will be spent following the November elections, anyway). Taxpayers would be underwriting Commissioner Draud driving around the state in a vehicle costing nearly twice what other state officials are provided. And the governor might be tempted to not reimburse the state fully for every penny spent to host the partisan fundraisers.

We are particularly concerned by the silence of our local elected state officials and the candidates seeking their jobs, while such blatant waste of taxpayers’ money was being perpetrated in Frankfort.

We as voters send them to the state capital to be our watchdogs, not their legislative leaders’ lapdogs, and we have a right to expect them to blow the whistle on profligate spending even when it involves the hierarchy of their political parties.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.