Legislature: Reform yourself

All most Kentuckians know about the recent debacle in Frankfort is that lawmakers failed to finish their work on time and, as a result, will pocket extra pay.

Most wage-earners would never expect to be rewarded for messing up like this. (More likely, they'd worry about getting fired.) At the very least, they'd try hard to avoid repeating the mistake.

It's not too much to ask the same of lawmakers. If the legislature wants to avoid embarrassing repeats — remember it also failed in another basic duty, redistricting — it will have to reform itself.

We know talking about process isn't as much fun as dissecting the political psychodrama between Senate President David Williams and Gov. Steve Beshear.

But good decision-making, in the public or private sector, is all about sound process.

In two areas, in particular, redistricting and budgeting, the legislature must commit to open, deliberative decision-making — unless, of course, lawmakers want to look like world champs in venality.

The General Assembly will have to throw open the doors on decision-making that's now closely held by a few leaders working out of sight of both the public and most of the legislature.

The road budget: Every time you pump gas you pay a tax that pays for building and maintaining roads and bridges. Kentuckians already are penalized by an historic lack of competition among road builders. The prevalence of single-bid contracts drove up the cost of road construction, meaning Kentuckians have gotten fewer miles of good road for their gasoline tax dollars. The last thing we need is a politics penalty on top of that. Because transportation infrastructure is integral to economic development, road-building decisions should be strategic. But no one really knows what governs road-building priorities when the final plan is hammered out by an elite few in secret while the vast majority of lawmakers have to vote without even having time to thumb through hundreds of pages of budget language.

Lawmakers should insist on having some reasonable period — 24 hours? 48 hours? — to consider the transportation and executive branch budgets before having to vote on them. They also should insist that the existing rules for negotiating House-Senate impasses be honored. They were not in this regular session.

Redistricting: It's possible to feed Census data into a computer and come out with near perfect legislative and congressional districts.

Such a clean and apolitical approach would disadvantage some incumbents but would go a long way to restore public confidence in government. Unless it hands off this duty to the courts, the legislature will have to draw new districts before the 2014 elections. Before starting, it should put an open, nonpartisan process in place.