A plan to give local governments the ability to pay for capital projects with a temporary, one percent, sales tax increase is headed to the Kentucky House. The measure has cleared a committee, but faces difficult prospects.
Because it would amend the state constitution, the measure will need a super majority in both the House and the Senate. It would then go to the public on the November ballot.
House Democratic leaders are split over the bill. Speaker Greg Stumbo says rural taxpayers will end up with the bill for projects that will be used more by their urban counterparts.
But Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, says Stumbo hasn’t really made up his mind.
“We’ll just keep educating folks. I mean, the input for Speaker Stumbo’s coming from all over the state, in terms of who’s for this bill, both rural and metropolitan areas,” said Fischer. “So we’ll hope he’ll listen to the people and be for the bill.”
Fischer has been the issue's chief cheerleader for years.
Bill Sponsor Tommy Thompson of Owensboro realizes passage before the full house will be challenging.
“We’ll go to the floor, talk to the members, continue to discuss, continue to provide information and we’ll see where it goes. This is a fluid process. I think this particular bill has some great momentum for a good reason,” said Thompson.
Democratic Representative Tommy Thompson told WKU Public Radio he's hoping the governor will announce a boost for the statewide education funding formula known as SEEK, or "Support Education Excellence in Kentucky".
"It's really being funded at the 2009 level," Rep. Thompson said. "And then the strands of education--things like professional development and afterschool services and I.T. Those things have been dramatically cut some 30 to 40 percent over the last four or five years."
Thompson thinks there is also a chance the governor will announce funding for some capital projects around the state.
"Technology buildings, science buildings, education buildings--those types of things that are about reinvesting in communities that not only provide construction jobs, but also provide opportunities for workforce training and skill development," the Philpot Democrat said.
With only two days left in this year's Kentucky General Assembly session, time is running out for supporters of legislation meant to keep two western Kentucky aluminum smelters—which employ about 3,000 people—from closing.
Under state law, the smelters are required to purchase electricity from the nearest company—Big Rivers Electric, in this case. The smelters say lower aluminum prices have them struggling to pay the bills; they're asking for more options for where they get electricity.
Their legislative supporters want to let the smelters purchase electricity on the open market.
Opponents argue that giving the smelters lower rates or open market options would increase prices for the average customer.
Legislation introduced in both the Kentucky House and Senate is designed to help keep aluminum smelter jobs in the northwestern Kentucky region of Daviess, Henderson, Hancock, and Webster counties.
The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reports Sen. Joe Bowen and Rep. Tommy Thompson, both of Daviess County, have introduced identical bills in their respective chambers. Bowen told the newspaper the legislation is aimed at allowing Century Aluminum in Hawesville to buy electricity on the open wholesale electricity market.
That is currently not allowed under state law.
Last summer, Century, which employs 700 workers, announced it would shutter its smelter unless either the price of metal went up or its electric rates dropped. The smelter terminated its contract with Henderson-based Big Rivers Electric Corp. Before that, Century was Big Rivers largest customer.
A lawmaker representing Daviess and Ohio counties hopes legislators will tackle redistricting during this upcoming General Assembly--as opposed to putting it off until 2014. Democratic Representative Tommy Thompson of Owensboro told WKU Public Radio the sooner new legislative boundaries are created, the better.
“And that way people would know what districts they’re going to be working in. If there are new districts, they’d have time to acquaint themselves with new constituents in their district. So I just think that we’d be better served to deal with it sooner rather than later,” said Thompson.
Kentucky lawmakers created new legislative maps last year, but the new boundaries were found to be unconstitutional, meaning legislators have to start from scratch.
Thompson says he wouldn't be surprised if lawmakers tackled the redistricting issue during a special session after the official 2013 legislature is over. Many lawmakers believe the worst-case scenario would be waiting until the 2014 session to redraw the lines, because a new state budget will already be taking up a great deal of legislators' attention that year.
Possible Interstate Connections for Owensboro/Daviess County Region
Business and political leaders in the Daviess County region are trying to figure out the best--and most cost-effective--way possible to link the area up with an interstate. Rep. Thompson says he's excited about the possibility of connecting the region to the I-67 project in Indiana.