Monday, May 01, 2006

Waste, Fraud, and Abuse?

There’s a certain sadness connected to how one views the work of the people he helps elect to the legislature, whether on the local, state, or national level. The legislature and governor have just finished their biennial 3-month session, and already the governor is planning for a special, expensive session to take up small-business matters that should have been easily handled in the regular session just ended. The biennial short-session will be conducted next January, so why not simply wait until then? Well…only one month is not enough to handle just the rhetoric and regional bickering that necessarily accompany a session, let alone actually handle a matter of importance.

One is reminded of the failure of subsequent legislatures to straighten out the mess of mid-90s legislatures that, with the collusion of governors, managed to run all but one of the health insurance companies out of the state. There was the famous (or infamous) special session called just before Christmas a few years ago when the legislators met and made speeches to each other for a couple of weeks or so, collected their Christmas present from the governor (pay and per diem and anything else not nailed down), and departed to buy gifts with their ill-gotten gain while lots of fellow citizens still didn’t have health insurance and lots more worried about heating their houses.

Last year, the Muhammad Ali Center, a $54 million facility designed to glorify the boxer – indeed, to beatify the man, at least in Islamic terms, was dedicated in Louisville. The state of Kentucky, using taxpayer funds, ponied-up $10 million for the project, state officials, elected and otherwise, thus establishing their approval of Ali as a far-greater-than-life personage who supposedly has brought inordinate respect to the state, known by some wags as the land of beautiful horses and fast women, perhaps not too inaccurate a hedonistic description, considering its coupling with this garish Louisville monstrosity honoring a man who made his living by attempting to turn other men’s brains into jelly through administering to them great pain.

State funds: $10,000,000! How much in health resources could that amount buy? Ali’s family just sold 80% of the swag to be made off of his name for a paltry $5 million to a company specializing in exploiting celebrity. In 2004, in the city-budget of Louisville was an expenditure of $80,000 to be used in creating a statue of Ali, whose name also appears on what used to be historic Walnut Street but now is Muhammad Ali Boulevard. The people’s money wasted by officials duly elected to do the business of governing…disgusting!

The governor and legislature combined this year to manage a waste of some $75 million for helping to build a new gymnasium in Louisville, notwithstanding the fact that Freedom Hall is in perfectly good shape and seats well over 19,000 people for basketball games. Rupp Arena in Lexington seats about 23,000, so what’s the big deal? At the University of Kentucky, a new practice gym at about $30 million and said to be built only with private funds, has been finished, thereby taking up a lot of parking spaces on a campus where the parking situation is critical. Thirty- million in private funds? Does that include UK athletic department funds that might have been spent on academic enterprises that will help ALL students instead of a handful who can run fast or jump high?

In the midst of this wastefulness, the legislature, though the budget was ready for action in plenty of time to override any line-item-veto by the governor, chose to act only when there would not be sufficient time to do so. After all, this IS an election year. So…the governor was left to work his will and he made some substantial cuts, some guaranteed to cause fury, such as at the University of Louisville, where academic concerns – not that gym – were of great importance. Much needed funds for improving the dams on the Kentucky River and thereby easing the water-shortage problems in times of drought for places such as Lexington, with its population of 280,000 or so, were vetoed by the governor. It was okay to throw away $75 million in Louisville, where there’s plenty of water in the Ohio River, but not okay to spend some $15 million where it is drastically needed. Go figure. The beauty of it all for the legislature was that it left the governor swinging in the wind, and has to take no blame for the pet pork that got dropped. Only…some of it was not pork.

Wimps…that’s about as good a term as any for legislators who either have self-interest at heart or simply lack the courage to stand for making correct common-sense judgments.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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