Needed: A budget process that’s ‘for the people’

By Jim Waters - Bluegrass Beacon

If you don’t believe satirical journalist P.J. O’Rourke’s quip that “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys,” start paying attention to what’s happening in Frankfort and Washington.

Better yet, try taking some of that money away or at least making politicians more accountable for how they spend it.

Be prepared for the incessant whining and excuse-making sure to follow your demand that they live within their current means, work harder, pay debts, prioritize spending and save for rainy days just like responsible Kentucky families must do.

For years, fiscally sane Kentuckians have been astonished by the absolute defiance on display in Frankfort toward the right spending decisions or even just some restraint, especially in challenging times.

They must really be amazed at the approach taken regarding the new budget by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, who moonlights as an ambulance chaser for a personal injury law firm marketing itself as “”

Stumbo’s been willing, for example, to hold up the commonwealth’s entire budget in order to force inclusion of free community college tuition for all Kentucky high-school graduates, despite the fact that more monies must be found to address the nation’s worst – and further worsening – public-retirement system.

Reasonable Kentuckians must also be amazed that as this column is released, the legislative session is in its final throes and still no budget’s been passed.

Lawmakers have found time to file some 940 other bills, including legislation requiring men to be married and receive approval from their wives before using Viagra and banning teens under the age of 18 from using tanning beds.

Yet the Speaker, as head of the majority party in control, has utterly failed to provide the leadership required to get House Bill 303 – the budget – passed and thus fulfill the state House’s singular constitutional duty.

Even if some kind of spending plan gets approved by the time you read this, the process remains a frustrating failure and needs an overhaul built around accountability and transparency.

The Frankfort press corps – eager for drama and pitting sides against each other while being inexperienced at covering a conservative, decisive governor – drives a narrative that presents all spending plans as equal.

Plus, statehouse reporters frequently – if unwittingly – cover these final budget spasms in ways that portray political leaders sympathetically as really working hard “for the people,” willing even to eat take-out and burn the midnight oil in order to meet the constitutionally determined April 15 deadline for making final decisions about how to spend $22 billion we taxpayers give them during the next biennium.

Puh-leeze. They’ve had months to get this work done and have failed.

Gov. Matt Bevin, despite being brand new to the process and having just won an election weeks earlier, met his constitutional responsibility to present the executive branch’s budget proposal during the General Assembly’s opening days.

Bevin’s two-year spending plan calls for 9 percent cuts to most state-government agencies and programs, including universities.

Stumbo distorts the governor’s intentions, claiming Bevin wants to harm education simply because he challenged university presidents to find inefficiencies and tighten their collective belts as several already have, so that the commonwealth can start down the long road toward saving our public-pension funds and tucking money away to address future pension needs so we don’t repeat our retirement systems’ messy history.

That’s like big-spending politicians in Washington labeling Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul “weak on national defense” because he wants the military to quit spending $640 for new toilet seats and put the money toward paying down the national debt.

Such demagoguery – whether during a debate about national defense in Washington or an austere budget in Frankfort – is many things: a time-buster, resource-waster and confidence-diminisher.

But “for the people” it’s not.

By Jim Waters

Bluegrass Beacon

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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