Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Beshear ordering caviar on a fish sticks budget

Even before he took office, Gov. Beshear was poor-mouthing the state's budget and financial outlook. For a while we thought he'd started wearing plaid jackets and changed his name to "Wimp."

Of course Kentucky's new Democrat governor is laying the ground for a tax increase, or approval of casino gambling, or most likely both, but it's a bit disingenuous to be complaining about having no money when you're planning a massive new expenditure.

One of the best things former Gov. (and God, how we hate saying that) Ernie Fletcher did was to consolidate the number of cabinets in Kentucky state government. Even after giving the remaining cabinet secretaries a raise over what Paul Patton's secretaries earned, it was a money-saving move for Kentucky and improved government efficiency.

Now Beshear is planning on undoing Fletcher's consolidation and is going to expand the number of cabinets.

Beshear has already said he will establish a Labor Cabinet and has already picked State Rep. J.R. Gray as the secretary-to-be. This is a bone thrown to the labor unions who supported Beshear, although we don't see the need for this to be a cabinet-level agency.

The new governor is also under tremendous pressure to split up the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The agency was known for years as the Cabinet for Human Resources until Patton split it up into Health Services and Families & Children. Fletcher reunited the two human services agencies under one umbrella as they had been for years.

Beshear also faces pressure to split up the state's regulatory agency, the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet. Fletcher combined the state's regulatory agencies, Environmental Protection and Public Protection and various other agencies, into one big regulatory body. Beshear has already stated his plans to extract Labor from that mix and will probably spin off other cabinets from this bureau.

There's also discussion about pulling Tourism out from its current home and re-establishing it as a cabinet. There also remains the possibility that Beshear will pull Revenue out of Finance & Administration, where Fletcher moved it four years ago, and making it a cabinet-level agency once again.

If Beshear establishes at least three new cabinets in addition to the promised Labor cabinet, that will cost the state an additional $1 million per year just in salaries for the four new cabinet secretaries. And that's presuming the secretaries' salaries will stay at the $125,000 per year they were paid in the Fletcher administration and they don't get raises.

That doesn't include benefits, salaries for the support staff the cabinet secretaries will need, other items such as a state vehicle, new furniture and other office perks, and the like. When all is said and done, the creation of four new cabinets could cost the state in total close to $2 million annually. If Beshear creates or re-establishes more than four new cabinets, the costs will go up proportionally.

A couple of million dollars a year may not seem like a lot in the grander scale of the state budget, but it looks bad for Beshear to be griping about the financial situation on one hand, then wasting money by creating additional cabinet positions on the other. It's more important at this point for the new governor to act in a fiscally responsible manner and set a good example than it is to pay back political favors.

This decision may be our first indication of what kind of governor Steve Beshear is going to be. He's already made a number of outstandingly bad choices in filling key staff positions, recycling old and failed political hacks from the nightmares that have been this state's previous Democrat administrations. Now he's wasting millions of dollars this state cannot afford to score political points and curry favor or reward supporters.

Kentucky has a fish sticks budget. Our new governor is trying to eat caviar.

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