Beshear Favors More Openness In Budget Negotiations

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The veil of secrecy surrounding legislative budget negotiations in Kentucky needs to be lifted - at least partially, Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday.

It has become standard practice in Kentucky for leading lawmakers to hammer out the budget privately, while locked away inside legislative offices.

"My impression is it should be more open that is," Beshear told journalists who gathered at the Capitol on Thursday for a legislative workshop sponsored by the Kentucky Press Association, The Associated Press and the Editorial Writers Association. "Obviously, in the give and take of negotiations, sometimes negotiations need go on behind closed doors."

Beshear said lawmakers don't even have time to read the behemoth budget document before voting on it.

"That's not good practice," he said.

Senate President David Williams, however, said lawmakers need privacy to have frank discussions and avoid the "grandstanding" that would likely go on if the meetings were open to the public. Williams said lawmakers "do the best we can" and noted press and other members of the public are not invited to Beshear's private budget meetings with state agency officials.

"I think that the governor who hasn't been up here in 20 years ought to worry about the openness of his branch of government," Williams, R-Burkesville, said. "We are a branch of government of the people and we are very open."

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the legislature includes large numbers of lawmakers participating in budget talks. Most of the budget has already been crafted in public before the private budget negotiations take place, Richards said.

"I went to journalism school. I'd like for the whole thing to be wide open," Richards said. "But as a practical matter it's very hard to do."

Beshear is expected to announce a proposal on Thursday afternoon to revamp ethics laws in Kentucky to restore confidence in state government.

"People in the last few years have lost a lot of faith and confidence in their government," he said. "They don't believe their government, and with some justification. Part of my job, as I see it, is to begin to restore confidence of the people of this state in their state government, and I'm determined to do that."

Beshear told Kentucky journalists that ethics reform needs to be the starting point for improving government services, dealing with current budget woes, or ramping up a staggering state employee retirement program.

"If people don't believe that we are conducting ourselves in an ethical fashion, if people believe instead that we are always up here to take care of ourselves and always up here to make behind the doors deals on this or that, then we really won't accomplish much in many of these other areas."

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