We’ve written before about the exemplary work done by the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit. These watchdogs consistently and bravely root out waste and lapses in state government — and their latest report deserves note.
As The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Sherman Smith wrote: “The report by the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit shows lawmakers failed to follow state law in appropriating $42.3 million dollars from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund in fiscal year 2018.” For reference, only “18% of available dollars were used as intended, underscoring legislative failings and a lack of accountability for how the money is handled.”
This is important, and to their credit lawmakers across parties seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation.
“This statute needs to be reworked, redone, revisited, re-something,” said Rep. Jim Gartner, of Topeka. “It is out of date. We’re not following the statute.”
Economic development funds “need to be restructured,” said Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican. “Their purpose needs to be fully defined and measured. Maybe they don’t even need to exist.”
The problems are many. The law establishing the fund was passed in 1986, and it seems to establish a system that made sense then. It also envisioned that the funds be put into three accounts and used in specific ways. Recently, the Legislature appears to have used the fund, which is supported by lottery revenue, as a general funding source.
Those putting the state’s budget together have difficult questions to answer. Why have they been ignoring the purpose of this fund? Those voting for the state’s budget should also have asked tougher questions about the allocation of these resources.
Kansas has been through the wringer on tax and budget matters, we understand. The state has only recently regained any sense of financial stability. The misallocation of these funds takes us back to the days when revenue from any source, anywhere, was eagerly sought to make up for daunting financial shortfalls.
Thanks to tax reform, however, we now ave the time and space to drill down on the use of supposedly dedicated funds.
Lawmakers should do three things. First, they should understand how this happened. They should look at their own policies and procedures, and their own understanding of the law. They should be transparent and open about it, too.
Second, they should see if the law itself needs changing. Economic development today no doubt looks different than when the statute was passed.
Finally, and most simply, they should then follow the law they passed. Taxpayers deserve no less.