Bill seeks full-time inspector for Kentucky's 'ghost government'
The state would hire a full-time inspector to investigate agencies such as fire protection districts, sewer authorities and airport boards under a bill for the 2016 General Assembly pre-filed by Louisville Democrat Rep. Steve Riggs.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky would hire a full-time inspector to investigate agencies such as fire protection districts, sewer authorities and airport boards under a bill filed for the 2016 General Assembly.
The measure, BR 332, was pre-filed last week by Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville and chair of the House’s local government committee. It would let Gov. Matt Bevin appoint an inspector general to work in the Department for Local Government, which tracks so-called special purpose government entities.
Kentucky has more than 1,800 such agencies – also dubbed “ghost government” or "special districts" – that are often run by appointed officials with the power to levy taxes and fees.
In Jefferson County, 31 organizations oversee $357 million in annual revenues, including the Metropolitan Sewer District, Louisville Metro Housing Authority and Louisville Regional Airport Authority, according to disclosure forms filed with the state.
Riggs was one of more than 40 bipartisan sponsors of a bill that lawmakers passed in 2013 requiring those disclosures, but he said the reports now “sit in a file.”
“What my bill does is say that not only will you be a repository of this information, you need to be on the alert and be a source for people to complain to,” he said.
The Transportation Cabinet and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services are among the state agencies with their own inspectors general. In making a case for his bill, Riggs said in an interview that special districts in Kentucky spend $2.7 billion a year – more than double the state road fund.
“Good government, more efficient government and government that is trying to root out inefficiency and malfeasance and crime in these special districts – they must have their own inspector general,” he said.
The bill allows for an inspector to look into allegations of waste and abuse in local governments as well, but Riggs said the legislation's "intent" is to focus on special districts.
The push for greater oversight gained speed in 2012, when Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen released a report calling for more transparency in special districts across the state. He found, for instance, that 40 percent of agencies failed to submit budgets to their fiscal courts.
Riggs’ bill “seems like a very fitting idea and a solid next step,” said Stephenie Hoelscher, Edelen’s communications and policy director.
“Obviously the Auditor’s office has somewhat limited resources and some of these ‘special purpose government entities’ are very small entities,” she said. “So it seems very practical that an inspector general or some type of position within that agency could be more focused on these smaller entities.”
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