2 legislators propose Web site to list expenses

ralessi@herald-leader.comOctober 8, 2009 

Two lawmakers want the state to create a Web site where taxpayers may see all expenditures made by Kentucky legislators and by the executive and judicial branches of state government.

State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said they are working on details of a bill to create the site, such as the types of expenses that will be disclosed and the time line for reporting them. They expect to announce those details by Thanksgiving.

"In a perfect world, we would want as many expenses as possible" outlined on the database, Thayer said. "When the state writes a check, it should be posted online so people can see how their tax dollars are being used."

This is the first time Thayer, who chairs the Senate's State and Local Government Committee, has worked on a bill devoted to online disclosure of state expenses.

DeCesare has filed similar legislation in past sessions, but none of those bills cleared the House State Government Committee.

"I think it's the right thing to do, especially in these economic times and when the Herald-Leader has uncovered some problems with public agency expenses," DeCesare said.

The newspaper has published articles in the past 11 months detailing spending and inadequate expense oversight at agencies that receive taxpayer dollars, such as Blue Grass Airport, the Lexington Public Library, Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties. Following the reports, the executive directors of three of the agencies resigned. The executive director of the library was fired, and state Auditor Crit Luallen's office has audited all but the library, which is being audited by the city.

Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton and chairman of the House State Government Committee, said he will have "an open mind" on the issue in the session that starts in January, and that it helps the bill's cause that it will be pushed by his counterpart in the Senate. He also said the recent "attention to the subject" of taxpayer spending will help the bill.

In addition, the Courier-Journal has scrutinized travel expenses of state lawmakers and legislative staff.

Thayer, who noted that he will go on his first out-of-state legislative trip in his six-year career later this month, said he doesn't "begrudge any legislator from taking a reasonable number of trips at a reasonable expense." But he said Kentucky taxpayers should be able to see how much all public servants spend.

Thayer and DeCesare said they haven't determined how much the transparency program would cost.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, voluntarily started a site to disclose his office's expenses in the "Secretary's Desk" section of his Web site at www.sos.ky.gov.

And Gov. Steve Beshear's administration created a Web site, www.opendoor.ky.gov, that outlined broad trends of government spending.

DeCesare said the planned legislation would go deeper.

"I think it's important we be held accountable for every nickel and dime," he said. "If we are wasting money in areas, this type of legislation would help point those out."

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