Addicted to that new car smell

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer
Republican Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

It's current Republican dogma in Frankfort to say about the state government: "We don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem."

Senate President David Williams, the man who would be Kentucky's next governor, has preached variations on this gospel on numerous occasions in arguing for government belt-tightening during austere times.

But Williams' running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, must not have received the memo.

Or if he did, he ignored it, because he keeps spending on vehicles like there's no tomorrow.

Of the 200-plus vehicles in the Agriculture Department fleet (up from 178 when Farmer took office), just three are more than four years old, the Herald-Leader's John Cheves reported recently. And about two-thirds of the vehicles have less than 50,000 miles on their odometers.

But the department keeps replacing them with newer models. This year alone, 19 new vehicles have been purchased at a cost of $445,000, including a $35,340 Chevy Suburban for Farmer's own use. Farmer had driven his previous state-supplied vehicle all of 30 months.

We know it's a lot to ask of a former member of the University of Kentucky basketball "Unforgettables" to tool around without being surrounded by those smells emanating from a new vehicle.

But swiping Kentucky taxpayers' debit card for a new ride every 30 months is quite a bit much.

By contrast to Farmer's department, half of the nearly 5,000 vehicles overseen by the state's Division of Fleet Management are at least five years old, have 100,000 miles on them or both. And the number of vehicles in the fleet has been cut by 5 percent in the last two years.

Those numbers reflect the realities of the state's recent tight budgets. They also reflect the realities of the economic times confronting Kentucky's taxpayers, many of whom would love to be able to upgrade to a vehicle with fewer than 100,000 miles on it.

We suspect Bill Clary, Farmer's spokesman, would have a tough time convincing those taxpayers the Agriculture Department is really saving them money on maintenance costs and resale value by providing his boss a new vehicle every 30 months.

Maybe Williams needs to do a bit more preaching on the subject of government spending problems — to a congregation of one.