This and that as the legislature reaches day 18 of a 30-day session:
The insurgent outsider of four years ago has undergone a metamorphosis. In the last regular session before he stands for re-election, Gov. Matt Bevin is seeking the power to cut economic development deals in total secrecy, plus $75 million in borrowing for projects. The former Tea Partier has gone full pork barrel — oh, what a campaign season of ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings awaits!
Bevin preaches austerity on pensions but is fine with taking on debt for parks, campuses and other goodies. State parks and campuses doubtless need state investment, as do public schools, public health and public protection, all of which were relentlessly cut over the last decade.
Lawmakers would make hypocrites of themselves by approving Bevin’s spree after deferring funding for their supposed top priority, school safety. Until Bevin’s surprise request, lawmakers had refused to open the budget in this non-budget year, opting to wait until the next two-year cycle to fund their school safety plan. Nonetheless, House Bill 268, granting Bevin’s wishes, sailed from House to Senate, while school safety waits.
Bevin’s Economic Development Cabinet seeks a rollback in open government laws so it can dole out corporate tax breaks and other favors free from public scrutiny. The potential for corruption and cronyism should be obvious.
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Speaking of which, a reform imposed after the BOPTROT scandal, when 15 legislators were convicted of corruption, could be at risk. Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, filed an amendment that would end the ban on lobbyists donating to lawmakers’ campaigns, but only if the lobbyist is eligible to vote in the legislative race.
Of course, lobbyists already effectively get around the ban by raising money for political parties, as Kentucky American Water’s Senate Bill 163 vividly illustrates.
It would allow the Lexington-based subsidiary of one of the largest privatized water companies to overpay for dilapidated municipal water systems, then roll the inflated price into its rate base. Local governments could reap one-time windfalls from unloading their water systems for a premium, while consumers, including longtime Lexington customers, would be perpetually saddled with unnecessarily high rates as millions more dollars flowed from Kentuckians’ pockets to a New Jersey corporation’s stockholders. Kentucky American will buy the small water systems even at book value because it has excess capacity and expansion is its corporate strategy.
Lined up in opposition are the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Association of Municipal Utilities, Kentucky Resources Council and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. So, how did SB 163 muster support to clear a Senate committee?
Kentucky American has employed a team of lobbyists that includes two big fundraisers for the Republican Party of Kentucky: John McCarthy, managing partner of McCarthy Strategic Solutions, describes himself as “an avid fundraiser” who “has played a central role in recruiting candidates and raising money for the eventual GOP takeover of the state House.” Amy Wickliffe, also pushing the KAW bill, has served as the state Republican Party’s finance chair.
Lawmakers should not sell out their constituents to repay a debt to lobbyist fundraisers.