Treasurer says governor rejected request to audit disaster donations

Published 2:04 pm Monday, October 9, 2023

By Jack Brammer

Kentucky Lantern

State Treasurer Allison Ball claimed Monday night that Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration turned down her request for an audit of millions of dollars in disaster relief funds it had generated from donations.

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Ball said the state Public Protection Cabinet, which oversees the funds, said “no thank you” to her request.

Ball’s comments came during an appearance on Kentucky Educational Television’s “Kentucky Tonight” show with host Renee Shaw for this fall’s candidates for state auditor.

Ball, a Republican who could not run again for treasurer because of term limits, is being challenged by Democrat Kim Reeder.  The current auditor, Mike Harmon, also could not run again for that office and he was an unsuccessful candidate in last May’s Republican primary election for governor.

Also on the KET show were candidates for state treasurer — Democrat Michael Bowman and Republican Mark Metcalf, who argued over the state legislature’s decision to try to phase out the state income tax.  Metcalf said he supported the move while Bowman voiced opposition.

The auditor candidates took the first half-hour of the hour-long show.

In it, Ball, a former prosecutor, made her claim about the Beshear administration’s rebuff of her request for an audit of disaster relief funds.

The Beshear administration said late Monday night it had no immediate comment on Ball’s claim.

As of July, the Team Eastern Kentucky fund had raised more than $13 million since heavy flooding in July 2022, and the Team Western Kentucky fund had brought in more than $52 million since the December 2021 tornadoes.

In July, Auditor Harmon announced that his office is launching a special examination of the two funds.

Harmon said his exam would focus on the Public Protection Cabinet’s acceptance, administration and expenditure of money associated with the relief funds, and would cover the timeframe of Dec. 11, 2021, through June 30, 2023.

Harmon said his decision to audit the funds followed a letter of request for an audit sent to his office by Rep. Adam Bowling and Sen. Brandon Storm, the co-chairs of the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee.

Harmon has not said when his audit of the funds will be completed.  Beshear has said the announcement of the audit a few months before the Nov. 7 election smacks of politics.

Ball, a Floyd County native and attorney, said Monday night there are reports that more than 200 checks went to the wrong people and about 1,000 checks have not been cashed at all.

“We need to make sure there is a good audit of these funds,” said Ball.

Reeder, a native of Rowan County and a tax lawyer, said she would look at the details of the relief funds as auditor and then decide whether to audit them

Both candidates said they would be watchdogs of state spending and would not hesitate to conduct audits even if they were embarrassing to leaders of their political parties.

In the discussion with the treasurer candidates, Metcalf, a career prosecutor in Garrard County, and Bowman, a Louisville bank officer and former legislative assistant to Louisville’s Metro Government, took opposite sides on the state’s income tax reduction plan.

Last February, Beshear signed House Bill 1 to provide a 0.5 percent individual income tax reduction effective Jan. 1, 2024. The rate had been cut 0.5 percent  to 4.5 percent the previous year, over Beshear’s veto, with more cuts possible if the state’s financial picture met certain benchmarks.

But it was recently reported that the state failed to meet the Republican legislature’s fiscal requirements to usher in another reduction as part of a plan to phase out the income tax over time without creating a funding crisis in state government.

Metcalf said the state spends too much and needs to save more because of its billions of dollars in debt even with its healthy $6 billion rainy day fund for emergencies but he thinks the tax reduction is good for the state’s people.

Bowman said decreasing the income tax will not help the state or its people.  He said the state needs to be more transparent with what it does with its money.