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Strapped cabinet hires Chandler's wife

FRANKFORT — Despite declining revenue and deep budget cuts, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet created a $79,656-a-year management job this summer for Jennifer Chandler, wife of U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles.

Jennifer Chandler was recommended for the new position of deputy executive director of the cabinet's Office of Budget and Fiscal Management by Transportation Secretary Joseph Prather on July 10, according to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader through the state's Open Records Act.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear approved the appointment, and Chandler began work Aug. 1.

Previously, Chandler was executive director of the Office of State Grants in the Department for Local Government, a $75,862-a-year job she had had since February 2008.

Although Chandler's personnel file says her new job was created specifically for her, state transportation officials say that the position is not new and that Chandler is needed to help an overtaxed department handle its growing responsibilities.

Two departments merged to create the Office of Budget and Fiscal Management, which now has 45 employees who manage the cabinet's $2.4 billion budget, said Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the Transportation Cabinet. At one point, two people managed the separate departments.

The office's director, Tammy Branham, also used to have a deputy director, but that position has been vacant since June 16, 2008, Wolfe said.

The Transportation Cabinet has seen its budget nosedive during the past two years because of declining motor vehicle and gas tax revenues.

In June, transportation officials told a legislative panel that the cabinet must cut $239 million from its budget, including $59 million for state-funded road projects and $10 million for road maintenance.

Wolfe said Prather decided to hire Chandler despite the cuts to other parts of the transportation budget because Branham's office was overwhelmed. It must track $421 million in federal stimulus money that comes through the Transportation Cabinet.

"The budget office has carried an extraordinary load by virtue of not just managing the budget of the Transportation Cabinet in the wake of declining revenues in the road fund," Wolfe said. "But it has also had a lot of work placed on it because of the reporting requirements to Congress and the Federal Highway Administration in the wake of the Federal Recovery Act, which has turned out to be an almost full-time exercise."

Chandler, who held various positions in state government from 1987 to 2001, will take over personnel management and some of the fiscal policy in the department, leaving Branham to oversee the budget, Wolfe said.