Calling the potential for abuse obvious, the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s editorial board is calling on the Metro Council to drop or drastically cut its discretionary funds.
In a stinging editorial, the newspaper said that while the process isn’t necessarily a re-election “slush fund”, the two hefty accounts used by council members to finance projects and organizations in their districts has become too expensive, has too little oversight and is used inappropriately.
From the C-J:
Council defenders of the grants argue that oversight is vigilant, but the C-J examination showed that proposals are rarely challenged or discussed. Since revenue is fungible, funds given to religious groups or organizations like Dismas for acceptable efforts nonetheless free up money for other uses.
It likely would be possible to tighten accountability, but a better option is to drop the development grants in favor of expanding the city pool for nonprofit agencies that is managed by a panel of council members, mayoral staff and citizen appointees. Perhaps some money strictly limited to individual members’ capital funds could be retained, since the worthiness of each infrastructure project usually is apparent.
Since merger, each council member receives $75,000 in Neighborhood Development Funds and $100,000 in Capitol Infrastructure Funds for a total of $4.5 million each year.
City lawmakers have differed on the use of discretionary spending for years. Council Democrats usually defend the current practice as much needed funds for their urban and often poorer districts while council Republicans have sought tighter restrictions on the expenditures.
The grants have come under additional scrutiny this year, however, after it was revealed that Councilwoman Judy Green, D-1, broke council rules by rerouting funds through a non-profit organization.
In response, Metro Council President Jim King, D-10, called for an audit of discretionary spending over $5,000 in the past two years, which has spurred a discussion on the council of reforming the way members allocate taxpayer dollars.
Recently, Mayor Greg Fischer called the process “too loose” and his administration has suggested changes, but with a $22 million shortfall looming in the city budget the public’s patience with this system could be running out and the newspaper’s editorial reflects that growing concern.