This past week, Gov. Matt Bevin used his line-item veto power in a very important way: he helped prevent the erosion of transparency in government.
As the general session was wrapping up for the year, language was added to the budget bill that would have given cities and counties in Kentucky the option of not publishing their financial information in their local newspapers. Instead, they could have put copies of their financial statements at local libraries or on their financial statements at local libraries or on their websites.
This language was kept in the final version of the budget that landed on Bevin’s desk.
The problem with this language is not the idea of publishing financial information online, nor providing hard copies at libraries. In fact, local governments can already do both of those things if they want to — and they should if they want to prove their dedication to being open and honest with their constituents.
The problem is this language would have removed a very important check on the power of government. Currently, cities and counties are required to print their annual financial statements in the local paper of record, meaning a non-governmental party receives and disseminates that information to as many people as want to read it.
A government shouldn’t be in control of how or when taxpayers can access its financial information. That’s exactly what this language would have done.
Had these new rules been allowed to stay in the budget, it would have become a little easier for a corrupt government to obfuscate its actions. Financial statements could be buried in confusing navigation menus on poorly designed county websites; software “issues” could allow for delays in uploading; servers could conveniently go “down for maintenance.”
Unscrupulous governments could upload flowery, optimistic documents that are designed to look like financial statements, while the real data sits hidden elsewhere. They might even try passwordprotecting the document and requiring a process for requesting the password.
Worst of all, a shady government could simply rely on the fact that if its financial statement is only published on its website, no one is going to look at it.
But none of that will be a possibility for now, since Bevin vetoed the change on April 27. And Bevin went even further, by also vetoing language that already allowed school districts to avoid publishing their financial statements and school report cards.
As a result, current transparency checks on cities and counties have been maintained and transparency checks Kentucky used to have for school districts have been added back.
The Kentucky Press Association praised Bevin’s vetoes, saying they ensure “transparency on how local governments spend taxpayer dollars.”
In its public statement, KPA said it “does not support any process that would allow any government agency to control how, when, where and what it is required to make available to the public. … allowing local governments to use their own website to control what is published, when it is published, how it is published and where it is published should not be considered until numerous safeguards are in place to ensure government information is available immediately and continues to be so in an archival format.”
We agree. Requiring governments to publish their information with a non-governmental entity — local newspapers — is an essential check on power that keeps our leaders honest and helps reveal corruption.
— The Advocate Messenger, Danville