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Remember those old cries of “Break up Ma Bell!” back in the 1980s when the monopolistic telephone company practically ran the world?
Although breaking up the Kentucky Association of Counties might seem a bit extreme, perhaps it’s time to trim a few of its overgrown branches.
For those living under a rock over the past month, KACo has been under almost constant attack after the Herald-Leader exposed its lavish — and at times vulgar — spending practices.
To say the organization’s executive director and others spent money like drunken sailors on shore leave is an insult to sailors because at least they spend their own money.
KACo bigwigs, though, spent what amounts to taxpayer money they received from providing loans, insurance and lobbying services to nearly every county in the state.
For those not familiar with KACo, it’s an insurance, loan and lobbying organization that fronts itself as a do-gooder group for Kentucky’s 120 counties.
At the expense of local banks and insurance offices that pay taxes in all 120 counties, KACo has the power in numbers to undercut them for loans and insurance policies, giving them what amounts to publicly funded competition that would make even the New GM blush.
Anderson County has seen KACo’s lobbying prowess first-hand. A couple of years ago when the judge-executive was bent on implementing a payroll tax, KACo stormed in with a ready-made script designed to dupe even the most ardent opponent into thinking such a tax was the best idea since canned beer.
Of course it wasn’t, and seeing through KACo’s thinly veiled rhetoric was easy.
Another example of KACo’s ability to peddle its influence happened just over a year ago. A local insurance company one-upped the mighty KACo, beating it at its own low-ball game to secure the county’s health insurance. KACo insurance agents — they don’t like being called that, but it’s what they are — screamed foul, and lobbied their way onto the fiscal court’s next agenda, claiming an underwriter did them wrong on their bid.
Miraculously, KACo could suddenly match the local agency’s offer, but several magistrates held their ground and honored the vote that had already been taken.
This year, KACo insurance agents doubled down on Anderson County and sent the local agency packing by offering even lower health care premiums at a time when the rest of the nation’s are supposedly skyrocketing. Seems a little competition allowed KACo to discover lower rates, which makes us wonder why those rates weren’t offered two years ago.
There is certainly nothing wrong with county governments forming a group to help train incoming judge-executives about the nuances that come with the job, nor is it wrong for the group to hold meetings to look for solutions to common problems.
But there is something wrong when tax money is funneled into a group that has become as powerful as KACo currently is, especially when it does so at the expense of taxpaying businesses in each county that don’t have a prayer at competing with it.
Proponents will argue that KACo is cleaning up its act by taking away credit cards and shedding out of control executives, but would that be happening if not for the Herald-Leader’s reporting?
The state’s auditor is now involved and is reportedly giving KACo’s books the once over. It says here that the attorney general should also take a look to see if, like Ma Bell, KACo has outgrown its intended use and restore it to what it should have been designed to be in the first place: an agency to assist counties, not run roughshod over them and whatever competition gets in the way.