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Ethics Agency Says Cuts Will Gut Oversight

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Watchdog agencies responsible for holding lawmakers accountable to state ethics laws say Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget cuts could effectively defang their operations. But the fiscally-minded governor suspects the dire warnings are overblown.

Officials with the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission told the House Budget Review Subcommittee earlier this week the 4.5 percent reductions in 2016 followed by 9 percent cuts the next two years could seriously jeopardize operations.

"I can guarantee you that these proposed cuts will devastate the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. I can't overstate how important it is to ensure that you have a robust and active ethics commission," the agency's executive director, Kathryn Gabhart, said.

Gabhart said the agency is already down to one part-time investigator and part-time auditor – both of whom could see their positions hit the chopping block if the cuts are enacted.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Bevin was skeptical of the troubling picture painted by the agency.

"I noticed in that testimony it was kind of convenient that the thought was well if this cuts anywhere we'll cut the auditing and the ethics. Really? I'm not so convinced that there is not ability, potentially, to find some change in someone else within that staff," he said. 

The Ethics Commission was created in 1992 and is in charge of training, enforcing ethics rules, registering executive agency lobbyists, and recommending legislation to the General Assembly.