On January 24, 57 citizens gathered at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro and devoted more than two hours to the overarching decision facing state legislators in the 2006 General Assembly: How should our state taxes be used? Participants were presented with an issue brief and a summary of Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s budget proposal (prepared by the Public Life Foundation). Through structured small group discussions, they were exposed to diverse points of view. Following the dialogue, they shared their perspective through a questionnaire.
The forum was not designed to attract a scientific sample. It was a public meeting and all were welcomed. Participants were generally better educated and more affluent than average Daviess Countians. Nonetheless, the forum attracted city and rural residents, minorities, business and union leaders, elected officials and civic leaders, nonprofit managers, educators and interested citizens – certainly a valued cross section of our community.
Participants were asked to come to judgment about budget issues and choices after having been briefed extensively and engaged in two structured discussions. This lends more credibility to the exercise than surveys and polls that call for an instant response.
Coming into the forum, only 29 percent of the participants said they were well-informed about state budget issues. Ninety percent reported that they were better informed as a result of the forum.
All but one participant reported that the material was balanced. All participants reported that the material was clear and understandable. All but one reported that the discussion format was effective. All but one recommended the forum to others.
One hundred percent said that it is important for citizens to express their views regarding the state budget.
Results were shared with the Daviess County legislative delegation, key leaders in Frankfort, local-state media and opinion leaders.
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Local state legislators Joe Bowen and Tommy Thompson responded verbally. Impressed with the issue brief and the forum, they said they would take into consideration the input from citizens who participated in the forum.