Revolutions don't come easily, but when politicians start giving back money, it could be a step toward real change. That's what Representative Jim Wayne did with the money he earned for the extra days the Kentucky General Assembly spent in special session when it failed to complete its work on time.
Like Wayne, Representative Tom Riner returned money he considered wasteful spending. "I think that it becomes wasteful when we waste our time like we did, and it was unnecessary really to have a special session," Riner said.
A lot of employers worry about overtime, but when the people you employ go into overtime for a special session, it costs more than 60-thousand taxpayer dollars each day, and it's been happening almost every year for ten years.
The Legislative Research Commission says since 2002, Kentucky lawmakers have spent 76 days in special session costing taxpayers well over $4.5 million. "In the grand scheme of things, it's not a whole lot of money," Wayne admitted pointing out the state's 19- to 20-billion-dollar budget, "But it's symbolic, and it means a lot in terms of people being responsible as elected officials to get the job done and not have to have a special session."
So why are special sessions necessary year after year? "Our legislature is structured in such a way that it's very inefficient," Wayne explained, "It's not productive. It's controlled by a handful of people, and those people are often times controlled by moneyed interests in the state who contribute to their campaigns."
As a result, Wayne says in budget years that handful of legislators making up the leadership of both parties comes in at the end of the process to start from scratch. "They meet to basically rework the budget any way they want to, so much of the first part of the session that we've gone through, all the agony in both chambers is somewhat like show," Wayne said, "Those members do not have any power when you come right down to it. They rubber stamp a budget."
"We have to get as far away from the status quo as possible," Riner insisted, "As far away from the control of money over politics."
"It's very difficult because right now the power elite is entrenched because they control also the campaign fund that elects the rank and file," Wayne said, "The revolution would occur by changing the rules."
One solution suggested is shifting control of campaign money from House and Senate leaders to other committees elected by the rank and file. "It's a matter of the rank and file members taking ownership for the power they have, to own their power," Wayne said.
"It begins with each one of us," Riner added, "We have to be change. That revolution has to start with each individual legislator."
"The revolution will start with us recognizing that we don't want our legislative leaders controlled by moneyed interests. We don't want our legislative leaders to have as much power as they have," Wayne said.
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