Economy

Kentucky's pension systems are slated to have to pay out more than $17 billion that the state doesn't have.

The numbers come from Kentucky Retirement Systems director William Thielen, who testified before lawmakers in Frankfort Monday. He says the state's various pension funds have only a fraction of what they need to pay all potential retirees.

Thielen says if lawmakers make good on a promise to fund the pensions with the recommend amount, known as the ARC, it'll take a few years before the unfunded liability starts to drop.

“It’ll bottom out around 2018 or ‘19, and then start increasing. But, again, that depends on the full ARC being paid and for us meeting all of our assumptions, and most importantly our investment assumptions," Thielen told lawmakers.

Gov. Steve Beshear has appropriated about $200 million for KRS over the next two years.

Kevin Willis

Kentucky’s bourbon distillers are celebrating a record number of visitors in 2013.

The eight facilities that make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail saw a 12 percent jump in visits last year, with nearly 572,000 visitors touring facilities such as Four Roses,  Maker’s Mark, and the recently-opened Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail director Adam Johnson  attributes part of the tourism draw to the efforts distillers have made to improve their facilities.

“Name the distillery, and they’ve put some serious money in expanding that experience for their visitors," Johnson told WKU Public Radio. "Woodford Reserve, for example—they’re working hard on their place and hope to be open in the spring with a much more expanded experience, just like Jim Beam has done, just like Maker’s Mark has done, just as Wild Turkey has done.”

Johnson says the rising popularity of bourbon and other Kentucky-made spirits has also trickled down to the commonwealth’s growing list of smaller craft distilleries. Nearly 62,000 visits were made last year to members of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, including Corsair Artisan Distillery in Bowling Green, and Limestone Branch in Lebanon.

Here is a list of the member distilleries that are a part of the Bourbon Trail and Craft Tours:

U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers says the federal government should have a role in spreading high-speed Internet access to the region's struggling coalfields.

The Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that the spending bill passed by Congress last week included $10 million to expand broadband access to distressed areas of central Appalachia.

Rogers said he hopes that's the start of federal investments for broadband access in hard-hit coal regions. As chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Rogers will have an influential voice in that debate.

Rogers was at the Kentucky Capitol to support a plan outlined by Gov. Steve Beshear in his budget speech to lawmakers Tuesday night. Beshear is proposing a $100 million project to expand broadband access in Kentucky.

The proposal would be supported by $60 million in state bonds.

President Obama Names Southeast Kentucky a 'Promise Zone'

Jan 8, 2014

President Barack Obama will announce five "Promise Zones" this week as part of his effort to focus on income inequality in the lead-up to his State of the Union address.

Promise Zones are areas where the federal government provides tax incentives and grants to help communities tackle poverty. Obama first announced the initiative during last year's State of the Union speech.

On Thursday, Obama will announce the first Promise Zone locations. They're in San Antonio, Texas; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The White House says Obama believes investing in and rebuilding economically challenged communities is crucial to helping children have a chance at success.

Kentucky Lawmakers Facing Major Budget Gap in 2014-15

Dec 16, 2013
Kentucky LRC

New revenue in Kentucky’s upcoming biennial budget will not be enough to account for an estimated $450 million shortfall.

Lawmakers expect about $230 million in new revenue to be available for the budget. But House Speaker Greg Stumbo recently told a group of Kentucky’s top business leaders that more than half of that money will be used to pay down the state’s pension debt

“In about a $12 billion budget, it looks like there might be somewhere around a $100 million of new dollars, which is not even gonna allow us, quite frankly, to maintain status quo because just the cost of inflation," the Democratic House Speaker said.

Stumbo’s comments echoed those made by State Budget Director Jane Driskell, who has warned that budget cuts can be expected.

The Consensus Forecasting Group will meet this Thursday to provide the legislature with final budget numbers.

Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson is still fighting for the legislature to take recommendations from his Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform.

Abramson says he has delivered 59 speeches to encourage constituents to lobby their representatives and senators to take up the issue.

The commission’s report includes 54 suggestions to reform the state tax code and generate an estimated $660-million annually. “The Governor’s working with the leadership to find areas to find common ground to agree on, said Abramson." "I’m out on the trail trying to gin up the involvement of the average guy and gal in a community and I’m asking them to call their legislator, go see their legislator and tell them that they will support that kind of vote."

Abramson says lawmakers are frightened about voting on taxes especially in an election year. He wouldn’t offer odds on whether or not the legislature will take up the issue in January.  The Commonwealth has cut more than $1.6 billion in the last six years.

Abramson has two years remaining as Lt. Governor, but this is his last feasible opportunity to push for tax reform.  Passing tax reform is procedurally less challenging during the upcoming budget session than garnering a two-thirds vote in an off budget year.

A Kentucky nonprofit says a state earned income tax credit would help working families.

Kentucky Youth Advocates released an issue brief  that says the credit would piggyback onto the federal earned income credit. That could yield up to $337 per applicant, with little to no administrative cost to state government.

The proposal could cost up to $134 million per year. But KYA Executive Director Terry Brooks says it would help pay for itself by putting money back into local economies.

“We know that families who get earned income credits are not going to take that refund and put it in their off-shore account. Instead, they’re going to be spending money at the local hardware store, at the local car repair shop, at the appliance store. They’re going to be taking their kids to the department store to buy them clothes for school.

Neither Democratic nor Republican leadership is voicing support for comprehensive tax reform in the next year. But the earned income tax credit has bipartisan support on the federal level, and Brooks says the measure would likely enjoy the same in state government.

Since the beginning of the 1990's, the percentage of Kentucky's population comprised of immigrants has soared by more than 300%. While their overall number is still small, WKU economics professor Dr. Brian Strow says their effect is being felt and it's a net plus.

Strow's study shows immigrants locally have a higher employment percentage than native born people and a higher mean income. There's also a higher number who are self-employed.

Joe Corcoran spoke with Dr. Strow about the benefits of immigrant entrepreneurs.

The debate over same-sex marriage is one that has heated up this year, with the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which blocked the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. Seven states in 2013 saw same sex marriage legalized through court order, laws passed by state legislatures, or through popular vote.

WKU Economics Professor Susane Leguizamon has conducted  some research about an aspect of same sex marriage that most people probably haven't thought about: namely, what would the impact of nationwide gay marriage be on federal and state income tax receipts?

The research conducted by Prof. Leguizamon and her two co-authors finds 23 state would see a new fiscal benefit from same sex marriage legalization, while 21 would see a decline. Seven states wouldn't be impacted in this way since they don't have income taxes.

You can request a copy of the research by emailing Prof. Leguizamon here.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation with Prof. Leguizamon:

How would same-sex marriage legalization impact the income tax revenues of the three states in our listening area: Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana?

Economists See Kentucky Heading for $10 Billion Milestone

Oct 12, 2013

A panel of state economists is predicting that modest growth over the next two years will push Kentucky's annual General Fund revenue above $10 billion for the first time in 2016.

The economists, serving on the Consensus Forecasting Group that advises government officials on revenue trends, agreed Friday that the state is continuing a slow rebound from economic recession.

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