GA has oversight responsibility

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By Rick Rand

The first priorities of the General Assembly may be to write the law and the budget that guides state government, but it also has an oversight responsibility as well.

Over the years that has led to the creation of eight committees that monitor a variety of programs, ranging from Medicaid to the way we spend our portion of the multi-billion dollar settlement the states reached with the major tobacco companies in the late 1990s.

These committees do not consider legislation, but they are a key link between the legislative and executive branches. The committees’ findings give the General Assembly much-needed background information so that, when a legislative session begins each January, my colleagues and I have a firmer grasp of the issues at hand. It is part of the checks and balances our constitution’s drafters had in mind.

It is through these meetings that we learn of items that might not otherwise be widely known. For example, our Government Contract Review Committee last week signed off on providing tax incentives to the company involved with the filming of the upcoming movie “Secretariat.”

These incentives flowed out of legislation this summer designed to make the state more attractive to the television, movie and traveling Broadway production industries. It is fitting that the first project approved is a film about a thoroughbred that won the Kentucky Derby en route to winning the Triple Crown.

As this committee looks at the ways the state pays for its day-to-day needs, another focuses on the several dozen changes agencies make each month to further clarify the law.

The Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee sees if these changes uphold the General Assembly’s intent.  Although the committee cannot stop an administrative regulation from taking effect, it can flag it for further review during the next legislative session.

Not every committee consists just of legislators.  Our Capital Planning Advisory Board, for one, has members from other areas of state government that help the legislature determine our long-term building needs.

With about 6.6 million square feet of space to maintain, that is no small task.  Recently, the committee reported that it is expected to take about $5.5 billion over the next six years just to keep up with what we have.  Another $11.4 billion is expected to be requested for new facilities during that time, plus nearly $2 billion for new equipment.

Several of the other committees look at more specific areas of government.  At its last meeting, the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee heard an update from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority on our long-term effort to increase water and sewer service.  Part of the money in recent years for this has come from tobacco-settlement dollars.

Kentucky has been especially successful at providing treated water.  With more than 90 percent of families having access, only a handful of states can boast a higher percentage.

According to the Capital Projects and Oversight Committee, February’s stimulus money for the states includes nearly $67 million to increase these critical services.  Projects have to have a construction plan in place by next February to qualify.

The federal stimulus plan has also been a focus this past year for the Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Committee.  That’s understandable, since a substantial portion of the stimulus dollars are going to this program.

The Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee, meanwhile, has been busy monitoring the implementation of this year’s major law that is changing how we assess our schools.

The last of these eight committees, Program Review and Investigations, dedicates its time to studying a particular issue in-depth and seeing how it could be improved.  Its subjects can vary widely.

With the 2010 Regular Session a little more than two months away, legislators are beginning to wrap up their findings for the year and are readying for any potential changes that need to be made.