The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

January 14, 2013

Edelen’s ‘ghost government’ efforts could create millions of new auditors

American revolutionary James Otis gets credit for saying: “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

Whoever said it, those words ring just as true here today in Kentucky as they did in 18th century colonial Massachusetts.

Thankfully, State Auditor Adam Edelen also is demonstrating his belief in this founding principle with his initiative to hold accountable the more than 1,200 special taxing districts strung out across the commonwealth.

The crescendo of the Kentucky Citizen Auditor Initiative on special districts is an interactive online database designed to finally shine some light on these governments.

Edelen calls them “ghost governments” that have operated in the shadows of Kentucky for more than a century.

These special districts are as spooky as they sound. That’s because the state officials who run them have the power to assess fees and levy taxes on Kentuckians – without having to be elected by Bluegrass citizens.

Add in the fact that 40 percent of these ghost governments ignore their legal obligation to submit budgets to county governments, and that half with revenues over $750,000 per year are not subjected to the audits required by law, and you may feel like you’ve been whisked back in time to an era of colonial history where state masters would taketh without having to giveth account.

That’s truly taxation without representation – not to mention without transparency.

And the lack of accountability isn’t a nickels-and-dimes type of problem either.

The 1,268 special districts that can be found in every county in Kentucky spend more than $2.7 billion per year – which equals approximately one-fourth of the total annual general fund state budget.

At $1.3 billion, even the total reserves held by these ghost governments are more than twice those of Kentucky’s 174 school systems.

In 117 of 120 counties in Kentucky, taxpayers pay more to these unelected ghost governments than they do to their elected county governments.

As Edelen notes in his report, one must separate the epic lack of transparency and accountability within these special districts from the services provided.

Fire departments, sanitation services and libraries provide highly demanded goods and services. But to allow the $2.7 billion earned by Kentucky citizens and taken by these typically unelected officials to be spent without transparency or accountability is unacceptable.

Thankfully, Kentucky’s legislature is finally taking measures to turn these ghost governments into good governments.

Legislation likely will be filed next week that would require these special districts to submit appropriate accounting and reporting information to Kentucky’s Department for Local Government, and would streamline the process by creating a uniform system of transparency.

While taxpayers deserve to get even more details on spending by these special districts, these steps represent a big improvement over the current system, which, as Edelen describes in his recent report, represent “a muddled morass of more than 50 chapters of law and more than 1,000 individual statutes (some of which are a century old), bizarre classifications, uncertain responsibilities, confusing mandates and the absence of meaningful tools to compel compliance.”

Utmost transparency and the kind of accountability expected from those who tax and spend citizens’ hard-earned income are necessary in defeating the type of tyranny American revolutionaries opined against 250 years ago.

Let’s hope the legislature will take a bold step toward reaching that ideal.

Edelen has provided the leadership through his efforts to establish an online database that any citizen watchdog can use to hold these tax collectors accountable.  

By following his lead, lawmakers will empower Kentuckians, creating millions of auditors rather than just one.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/

bluegrassbeacon.

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • 06.29 CrystalFarewell.jpg Starting over at Head Start

    All I ever wanted to be was a journalist. Having worked on my high school and college newspapers, I knew it was the career for me.
    I love talking to people, listening to their stories, being creative every day and experiencing new things. But as you know, news happens outside the hours of 9 to 5, and my job here at the Register rarely stayed within that time frame.

    June 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ike Adams They don’t make strawberries as they did back in the old days

    I’m not inclined to go through my archives at the moment, but it almost feels like the column I’m about to write has almost become an annual thing over the years.
    At least I know for sure that that this is not the first time that memories of picking strawberries there on Blair Branch on hot days in June has triggered this keyboard about this time of year.
    I grew up on a little subsistence, hillside farm deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, among the coalfields near the Virginia line.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Baby boomers have let technology rob their grandchildren of the joys of youth

    When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons along creek banks fishing together or in the woods hunting squirrels or pitching horse shoes or even shooting marbles late in the afternoon in the cool hours before dark.
    Dads were teaching kids to play the games they grew up with. Little girls, learned from mothers,how to skip rope, play with jacks or play hopscotch.

    June 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg No Lincoln or Douglas in this debate

    Remember the famous slap-down in the 1988 vice presidential debate when Republican Dan Quayle compared his youth and limited government experience to those of John Kennedy’s when Kennedy ran for president?
    His Democratic opponent, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, acidly replied: “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

    June 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Senate campaign already in full bloom

    Any hope for a respite in the U.S. Senate campaign following Tuesday’s primary disappeared immediately.
    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came out swinging in victory speeches which sounded like campaign kickoffs.
    McConnell commended Matt Bevin on “a tough (primary) race” and appealed to Bevin supporters to unite behind his re-election bid. That will be hard for Bevin and those who backed him.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG ‘Taxpayer-eaters’ meet ‘self-serving politician-eaters’

    What some candidates could gain in this year’s election – beyond just winning office – is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year they had adequately addressed Kentucky’s public-pension crisis.
    Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are “politically feasible.”

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Step Out, Step up for Diabetes Association

    Six weeks ago when I wrote here announcing the 2014 Edition of Team TKO’s American Diabetes Association, Step Out Walk Team, several dozen of you readers sent generous donations to sponsor grandson Tyler Kane Ochs (TKO) and me in the walk that takes place, rain or shine, in the mud or not, at Keeneland on the morning of May 31.
    Another several dozen of you either called, emailed or dropped a card in regular mail and asked that I remind you again “after the holidays” (Easter and Mother’s Day).

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Hitting the campaign trail

    The most watched race in the country ? the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell ? has so far produced a bevy of charges and not much substance.
    We haven’t seen that much of McConnell or his likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes out on the campaign trail.
    McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin has been much more active and visible, but his performance hasn’t enhanced his chances.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case of the scary black cat

    If Margie didn’t believe that black cats were the harbinger of bad luck, she certainly believed it when a black cat brushed against her leg while she was leaning over a large trash can burning garbage one late afternoon.
    Startled by the sudden appearance of the feline, Margie opened her mouth wide and let out a blood-curdling scream that could have awakened Count Dracula himself.

    May 10, 2014

  • Ike Adams Basking in the spring sunshine

    If you had asked me, as recently as two weeks ago, to make a list of things I expected to see on the first Monday in May of 2014, two of the things that I actually did see would not have been on the list, even if you’d required that it contain at least 500 items.
    I’d have been a bit skeptical about Ralph’s purple asparagus and his gorgeous snowball bush, both of which came through most admirably. And I would have had my doubts about the poppies that have been in our back yard for several generations and the bearded German Iris that Jeanette Todd gave us more than two decades ago. It faithfully stuns us there at the corner of the front porch every spring, but there they were, basking in absolute glory as the sun set Monday afternoon.

    May 8, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should Madison County’s three local governing bodies ban smoking in indoor public places?

Yes
No
     View Results