Kentucky businesses will save about $165 million on federal unemployment taxes after state officials paid off a close to a billion dollar federal loan early.  

Gov Steve Beshear says the Commonwealth has paid off the $972 million federal loan needed to meet unemployment insurance benefit obligations during the Great Recession at least two years ahead of schedule.

The early payoff means employers will see a reduction of $105 per employee.   

Flickr/Creative Commons

A program designed to benefit Kentucky's manufacturing sector is expanding statewide.  Governor Beshear made the announcement Wednesday at the Georgetown Toyota plant, where the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education initiative is already underway. 

Kentucky Community and Technical College System President Jay Box says under the program, sponsoring manufacturers pay for two years of student instruction. "It requires a dedicated student because they are very structured in their education and in their work during this program," said Box. "But, it also gets them through in two years and that's quite an advantage."      

Program participants attend classes two days a week at area community and technical colleges, and work 24 hours per week for supporting employers.  Upon completion of the program, students receive an associate degree in applied sciences and, in many cases, stay on to work full-time.       

Greg Higdon with the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers says expanding the initiative may result in more firms locating in the Commonwealth.

Emil Moffatt

A new report shows tourism related to Mammoth Cave National Park is responsible for $40 million in economic benefit to the region.

The analysis conducted by a group of economists with the U.S. Geological Survey measured the impact of tourism dollars spent by park visitors in 2013. According to the report, 494,541 visitors came to Mammoth Cave National Park last year, with tourism dollars supporting 567 jobs in the region.

Mammoth Cave acting superintendent Lizzie Watts told WKU Public Radio the nearly half-a-million visitors who came to the south-central Kentucky attraction did more than just spend money. She says they also walked away with an enhanced respect for the region that they take back with them to their communities across the U.S. and globe.

“The environment of Mammoth Cave is one of the most unique in the whole world. So just the experience of walking in the cave for many people, it’s the one time--and maybe the only time—they get that experience. And they can take that all over the world and say ‘yes, I was in the largest cave system in the whole world.’”

Watts says Mammoth Cave is seeing an increase in the number of visitors interested in boating along the Green River, as well as those using the eight-mile Big Hollow Trail, which was opened in December to mountain bikers, hikers, and runners.

“The park itself is really a mecca for recreation above the ground, in many ways, both biking and hiking, and boating and canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding.”

Overall, the new report says the 273.6 million visitors to National Park Service attractions in 2013 spent  $14.6 billion in areas within 60 miles of a park.

Commonwealth of Kentucky

Kentucky is facing a $91 million budget shortfall, and one of the driving factors is a decline in a form of income primarily used by the nation’s wealthiest individuals.

In 2012, the U.S. Congress was preparing to take the country over the “fiscal cliff” over rising debt, rising healthcare costs, and spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To reduce the deficit, President Obama proposed raising the federal capital gains tax, which largely impacted the nation's wealthiest, prompting a massive sell-off by 2013.

As a result, state budget forecasters anticipated a repeat of such revenue on what was essentially a one-time occurrence.

“All states knew of this change, and they made adjustments in their revenue estimates, but it was a much larger impact nationwide than states planned for,” said Kentucky State Budget Director Jane Driskell.

Driskell says there is no need for a special legislative session to address the shortfall. Governor Beshear could issue a budget reduction order to balance the state’s coffers.

Abbey Oldham

A coalition of business, political, and refugee-rights groups in south-central Kentucky is calling on Congress to pass immigration reform.  

As part of a so-called national “Day of Action”, representatives from various backgrounds spoke Wednesday in Bowling Green about the need for Congressional  leaders and the Obama Administration to get reform passed this year.

Barren County dairy farmer H.H. Barlow, a presidential appointee to the U.S. Board for International Food and Agriculture Development, said many Americans don’t understand the impact immigrant labor has on sectors such as the agriculture industry.

“I hate the word ‘criminals’, or ‘illegal aliens’—I don’t like that term. They’re workers. They’re performing an essential service to our country,” Barlow said.

The Barren County farmer said he speaks to his elected representatives about the need for immigration reform each time he sees them. Barlow believes that reform will not only benefit immigrants, but also the U.S. economy.

City of Owensboro, KY

A new study is attaching cost estimates to proposals that would provide an interstate spur for the Owensboro region.

The study, commissioned by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, looked at plans for an I-69 spur-designation for the Audubon Parkway, and an I-66/I-65 spur for the Natcher Parkway.

Among the key findings of the study:

*The cost for upgrading over 23 miles of the Audubon, from Henderson to the U.S. 60 interchange at Owensboro, would run between $14 million and $15 million. Such a move would require the Pennyrile Parkway to be upgraded to I-69 status at the western end of the Audubon.

*Obtaining an I-65 spur status, by upgrading 72 miles of the Natcher Parkway stretching from I-65 in Bowling Green to U.S. 60 in Owensboro, would cost $66 million to $76 million.

*Upgrading U.S. 60 and 72 miles of the Natcher would cost as much as $148 million. The consultants advised against trying to designate U.S. 60 as a spur, citing high costs and the surrounding residential area.

A new report shows over half of Kentuckians are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and would fall below the federal poverty line if they lost their job.

The numbers come from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a non-profit based in Washington D.C. that has released a scorecard focusing on the financial well-being of households in each state.

The numbers for Kentucky aren't good.

Fifty-two percent of Kentuckians wouldn’t have enough money to get by at the federal poverty level if they lost their job. The report says that means more than half of households in the commonwealth “are one crisis away" from financial devastation.

Sixty-percent of Kentucky residents have sub-prime credit, which is defined as a credit score below 570.

Kentucky Center for Economic Policy Director Jason Bailey says the report is proof that the commonwealth has steeper economic challengers compared to many other states, because of Kentucky’s traditional reliance on low-wage jobs.

President Lyndon B. Johnson went to eastern Kentucky in 1964 to promote his War on Poverty. But when he did, he opened a wound that remains raw today. People in the region say they're tired of always being depicted as poor, so when NPR's Pam Fessler went to Appalachia to report on how the War on Poverty is going, she was warned that people would be reluctant to talk. Instead, she got an earful.

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson stood before Congress and declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America." His arsenal included new programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, food stamps, more spending on education and tax cuts to help create jobs.

In the coming year, NPR will explore the impact and extent of poverty in the U.S., and what can be done to reduce it.

Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator says any extension of long-term unemployment benefits must be paid for by cutting spending elsewhere.

Long-term unemployment compensation expired on December 28. Sixty Senators, mostly Democrats, voted Tuesday to open debate on legislation that would extend the program for three months.

Kentucky Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul voted against the procedure. In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell said the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to improve the job prospects of those looking for work.

"Yes, we should work on solutions to support those who are out of work through no fault of their own. But there is no excuse to pass unemployment insurance legislation without also finding ways to create good, stable, high-paying jobs--and also trying to find the money to pay for it," Sen. McConnell said Tuesday.