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Beshear proposes $3.5 million in bonds for Lexington to begin Rupp project

By Jack Brammer and John Cheves – jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear is recommending $3.5 million in state bonds to help Lexington plan and design a new 46-acre downtown arts and entertainment district, including a renovated Rupp Arena, which falls far short of the $20 million for which city leaders had hoped.

Beshear said the state money would be matched by $1.5 million from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, for a total of $5 million.

“I know you all have seen some figures like $20 million being thrown around for this project’s planning and design,” Beshear told reporters Tuesday as he shared his two-year budget proposal. “Obviously, we didn’t have that kind of money. … This will at least let them begin.”

Beshear urges low-income Kentuckians to file for federal tax credit

Gov. Steve Beshear urged eligible Kentuckians Monday to apply when filing taxes for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable tax credit for low- and middle-income working people.

“This tax credit is an extremely valuable resource for low-wage earning taxpayers struggling in this difficult economy, and I want to make certain that every Kentuckian eligible for this benefit receives it,” Beshear said at a news conference with U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray at the United Way of the Bluegrass in Lexington.

Gray talks to lawmakers about future of Rupp Arena

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT –Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told state lawmakers Wednesday he is pleased that a new feasibility study about the future of Rupp Arena shows “it is still very possible to retain the extraordinary, awesome energy of Rupp Arena while actually getting far more for our city for less money than a new arena would cost us.”

But Gray, after telling a legislative committee the positives of renovating Rupp Arena, stopped short of saying whether he prefers a new or renovated arena for downtown Lexington that is home for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.

Gray said he wants “to listen” to the work of a special panel, the Arena, Arts & Entertainment Task Force, which is scheduled to complete its work Jan. 31 on the development of the 46-acre district that includes Rupp Arena.

“I’m willing to listen, I’m going to listen,” he said.

A feasibility study unveiled earlier this week says renovating Rupp Arena would cost between $110 million and $130 million, compared to $300 million to $325 million for a new arena.

It also said expanding the Lexington Center to add convention and exhibition space would cost $70 million, compared to $100 million to $130 million for a new convention center.

The study is to be discussed at a public forum at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Lexington Children’s Theatre at 418 West Short Street.

BEAM to have final report by October

By Beth Musgrave
bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A group of the state’s top business and education leaders hope to have an economic development plan that would improve advanced manufacturing and increase exports from Lexington and Louisville by next October.

The group, called the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement, or BEAM, is the brainchild of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

On Monday, the mayors announced that the group’s 21-member board includes the heads of some of the state’s largest employers, such as Lexmark International, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, GE Appliances and Lighting, and Tempur-Pedic International. University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey also sit on the board.

During its inaugural meeting at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort, the group heard from the Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that is helping the group develop a plan to improve a 22-county area’s position as a leader in advanced manufacturing.

Senator scraps Lexington police, firefighter pension bill

State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville

By John Cheves — jcheves@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said Tuesday that he has scrapped a controversial plan to sweeten retirement benefits for Lexington police officers and firefighters.

Buford said he won’t call his Senate Bill 136 for a vote this year before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, which he chairs. The committee discussed the bill last week but did not vote on it.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has agreed to negotiate the issue with police and firefighters, which is a better venue for reaching an agreement than a legislative debate, Buford said.

Gray spokeswoman Susan Straub on Tuesday confirmed ongoing discussions between the mayor and the emergency workers.

Lexington mayor at odds with police over pension bill

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray

By Jack Brammer – jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Lexington Mayor Jim Gray faces a showdown with Lexington police — key backers of his campaign to oust former Mayor Jim Newberry — over a costly proposal to sweeten their pension benefits.

The state legislature is considering a bill that would require the city to pay full health coverage for spouses and dependent children of retired Lexington police officers and firefighters.

The change would cost the city an estimated $2 million to $3 million a year, although the legislature has not yet done an actuarial evaluation of the bill to determine its cost, said Geoff Reed, a senior advisor to Gray.

“If it should become law, that would mean significant cuts in our budget,” Reed said. “That could mean such things as fewer police officers and firefighters. We do not want that.”

Lexington, Louisville mayors present united front to legislators

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray

FRANKFORT – The new mayors of Kentucky’s two largest cities – Greg Fischer of Louisville and Jim Gray of Lexington — told state lawmakers Wednesday that they want to work with the legislature to create jobs.

Fischer and Gray, who took office in January, appeared together before the House Local Government Committee.

Fischer said he hopes the I-64 corridor between Lexington and Louisville and the I-65 corridor between Louisville and Elizabethtown will become “an economic cluster” and “a job generator” similar to North Carolina’s Research Triangle involving the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

Gray said he looks forward to working with Louisville and Northern Kentucky, but “not at the expense of the rural area” of the state.

Push to eliminate judge-executive job in Fayette gets mixed response

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears – vhoneycutt@herald-leader.com

Newly-elected Fayette County Judge Executive Jon Larson ran on the platform of working to abolish his office, which for more than three decades has been criticized as unnecessary in Lexington.

Getting rid of an office where the duties are mostly obsolete might seem like a no-brainer, but response to his message of “we could do without this office” has been mixed, Larson said.

Eliminating the position requires a constitutional amendment that must win approval of the Kentucky General Assembly and voters.

Some lawmakers are voicing support for an amendment sponsored by state Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, that would do away with the office in Fayette and Jefferson counties. But two legislators whose opinion carries the heaviest weight, Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, would not say whether they support or oppose House Bill 45.

Lexington councilwoman K.C. Crosbie to run for state Treasurer

By Linda B. Blackford – lblackford@herald-leader.com

Urban County Council member K.C. Crosbie will file to run for state Treasurer next week, she confirmed on Thursday.

Crosbie, a registered Republican, would likely take on incumbent Todd Hollenbeck next fall if she wins the GOP nomination. Crosbie was re-elected to the LFUCG council in November.

If she won the treasurer’s race, Mayor Jim Gray would appoint someone to finish out her term.

Crosbie, 42, said she decided Wednesday to take the plunge after getting approval from her husband and three children.

“Part of what excited me about the position is what (former treasurer and current Finance and Administration Secretary) Jonathan Miller did to elevate the office,” Crosbie said. “I’m not sure we’ve seen that same type of standard over the past four years.”

She said she would not use the office as a stepping stone to other statewide office.

Beshear: Lexington gets $8.78 million for new bus building

Gov. Steve BeshearFRANKFORT – Lexington’s bus system, LexTran, will receive $8.78 million in federal funding to build an administrative-maintenance facility, Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday.

Also, Louisville is to get $2.54 million to replace its bus system’s fare collection system, the governor said.

Beshear said in a news release that the state is in line to get $17.2 million in federal funding for its urban and rural transit systems.

About $5.9 million of that will go to rural and small urban bus systems around the state.