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State’s new fiscal year gets off to good start

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT – Kentucky’s new fiscal year has gotten off to a fairly good start.

State budget director Jane Driskell said Monday the state’s General Fund receipts for July, the first month of fiscal year 2016, rose 4 percent compared to July 2014 receipts.

Receipts in July for the General Fund, which pays for most state programs, were $738.8 million.

The official revenue estimate for this fiscal year calls for revenue to rise 1.0 percent compared to last fiscal year’s actual receipts.

Based on July’s results, General Fund revenues need to increase 0.8 percent for the remainder of the fiscal year to meet the official estimate.

Driskell said, “We are very pleased that the first month of the fiscal year maintained the same momentum that produced $165 million in unbudgeted revenues in fiscal year 2015.

“This month’s sales and use tax collections grew at a higher than expected rate and helped offset declines in other accounts.

“Nevertheless, the sales tax acts as a barometer of current economic conditions, such as consumer sentiment, disposable income, and future prospects of gainful employment. This is a continued sign that the underlying economy is moving in a positive direction.”

Among the major accounts, individual income tax receipts rose 1.1 percent, sales tax revenues grew 8.6 percent, corporation income tax collections rose 48.2 percent, cigarette tax collections jumped 10.6 percent and lottery revenues increased 3 percent.

On the down side, property tax receipts fell 16.8 percent and coal severance tax revenues declined 12.2 percent.

Driskell also announced that Road Fund revenues for July totaled $127.6 million, an increase of 1.8 percent compared to last July.

She noted that the modest growth in receipts was expected.

“A timing issue helped bump up motor vehicle usage tax receipts while motor fuels tax collections declined at the pace we expected,” she said.

The official Road Fund revenue estimate for this new fiscal year calls for revenue to increase 2.1 percent compared to last year’s actual receipts.

Based on the first month’s receipts, revenues must increase 2.1 percent for the rest of the fiscal year to meet budgeted levels.

Among the major Road Fund categories, motor fuels tax receipts fell 13.2 percent, motor vehicle usage tax increased 25.3 percent and license and privilege taxes grew 11.2 percent

The Consensus Forecasting Group, a panel of independent economists, will meet later this month to begin establishing revenue estimates for the next two-year budget that will be approved in the 2016 General Assembly.

Beshear seeks federal disaster aid for July’s flooding


FRANKFORT –Gov. Steve Beshear has asked President Obama to issue a major disaster declaration and provide emergency assistance to persons in four counties recovering from last month’s flooding.

Letters supporting Beshear’s request also were sent to the White House from U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers and Thomas Massie.

Strong storms from July 11 to July 20 caused heavy rain and flash flooding, which claimed lives, washed out roads and forced people from their homes in several communities, Beshear said.

In his letter to Obama, Beshear noted the four deaths attributed to the flash flood that destroyed the mountain community of Flat Gap in Johnson County.

Beshear is asking for a major disaster declaration of assistance for people in the counties of Carter, Johnson, Rowan and Trimble.

Family Foundation plans Aug. 22 ‘Religious Freedom’ rally


FRANKFORT – The Family Foundation, a conservative group based in Lexington, is to hold a “First Amendment/Religious Freedom Rally” at noon Aug. 22 on the front steps of the Capitol.

“We cannot sit around any longer waiting to see if the governor will do his job on behalf of the county clerks,” said Kent Ostrander, executive director of The Family Foundation in a release Monday.

“Their rights and the First Amendment are too important to sit back and only hope.”

Ostrander was referring to Gov. Steve Beshear’s direction to county clerks to do their job after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that same-sex marriages were legal in all states.

A few Kentucky county clerks said their religious beliefs prohibit them from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ACLU of Kentucky has sued Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, and is awaiting a decision by a federal judge.

Ostrander said his organization is inviting to the rally “everyone who will stand with the county clerks and for the First Amendment to come to the Capitol and deliver their message in person.

“And our message is that the Supreme Court decision on marriage, now final, should not be used to erode any of the cornerstone birthright of every American – religious liberty.”

Ostrander said Beshear has not done enough to protect the religious liberties of the state’s county clerks.

He referred to a 2013 state law that outlines protections and the government’s duty to accommodate citizens when it has a compelling interest that conflicts with sincerely-held religious beliefs.

In this case, Ostrander said, the compelling interest is issuing marriage licenses to heterosexual and same-sex couples alike, but there has been no accommodation for the clerks.

2 GOP lawmakers sponsor bill to exempt county clerks, ministers from liability for following religious beliefs on same-sex marriage

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Two Republican state representatives said Wednesday they are sponsoring legislation that would exempt county clerks from civil or criminal liability if they refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on religious objections.

Reps. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, and David Meade, R-Stanford, said in a news release that their legislation also would protect ministers who don’t want to perform such marriages.

Earlier this month, state Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, pre-filed a bill that would prohibit the state from requiring religious organizations or leaders to perform same-sex ceremonies. That bill would also protect such organizations and leaders from being sued for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

“There have been numerous media reports about county clerks who have expressed real concerns about how issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples violates their religious beliefs and convictions,” Lee said Wednesday.

“There are reports of as many as half of all county clerks who want a legislative solution to this issue. There is no doubt many others who are afraid to speak out due to the threat of civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution.”

The ACLU of Kentucky has filed a lawsuit against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis also has refused to issue licenses on religious objections.

“If we truly believe in the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, then shouldn’t our clergy, as well as our county clerks, be entitled to this added protection?” Meade asked.

The bill was pre-filed for consideration in the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said legislation dealing with ministers is not necessary because the Supreme Court ruling had no impact on ministers who decide not to marry same-sex partners.

He said the group opposes any attempt to exempt county clerks from liability for not issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

“Why stop there?” Hartman said. “I can think of many amendments to add to allow our officials not to the do the jobs they were elected to do.”

Kentucky unveils new campaign to promote HPV vaccine

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT –Kentucky will start a statewide campaign July 20 to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated against human papillomavirus, a virus that can cause cervical and oral cancer.

Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, Health and Family Services Audrey Haynes and state Public Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield announced the campaign Monday at a Capitol news conference.

Luallen said a $500,000 federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will pay for the campaign that will run through September and feature TV, radio and print ads developed by Louisville-based Doe Anderson.

The vaccine is for girls and boys.

Kentucky trails the national average of children vaccinated for the virus.

Currently, only 27 percent of Kentucky girls ages 13 to 17 have received the recommended three doses of the HPV vaccine compared to 38 percent throughout the nation, and only 19 percent of the state boys have received only one dose.

Dr. Hatim Omar, a professor of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine who runs an adolescent health clinic at UK, said in a statement that nearly everyone will get one or more types of HPV in his or her life.

That will cause in some, he said, genital warts, cervical, vulvar, penile, oral and other cancers.

“The vaccine is safe and effective in preventing 70-90 percent of these diseases, which makes it a no-brainer to have everyone eligible immunized,” Omar said.

The target group for the vaccine is children 11 or 12 years old. Teens who did not get the vaccine when they were younger should ask their health-care provider about it, said Mayfield.

Women can get the vaccine through age 26 and men can get vaccinated through age 21.

The vaccine includes three injections in the arm over a year.

Health insurance plans cover the cost of the vaccine. The Vaccines for Children programs helps families of eligible children who do not have access to vaccines.

Conservative group gives $50,000 for legal defense for right-to-work

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT –Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group initially funded by philanthropist brothers David and Charles Koch, is giving a $50,000 grant to ProtectMyPayCheck.Org to assist in legal fees of Kentucky fiscal courts facing lawsuits by unions for passing right-to-work ordinances.

“Our chapter has committed significant resources to ensure that Kentuckians have choice in the workplace, we believe we should also support the local governments that are standing up for worker freedom and creating a more prosperous Kentucky by passing right-to-work ordinances,” Julia Crigler, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said in a release.
The grant comes after 12 counties passed local right-to-work ordinances and have been sued by the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America and other unions.

“Americans for Prosperity has been instrumental in connecting Kentuckians to policymakers on the need for worker freedom; we appreciate their gift to aid the defense of these counties who protect the rights of working families, allowing them to keep hundreds of dollars a year they are now forced to pay to just keep their jobs,” said Brent Yessin, executive director of

Lawmakers review salary hike for transportation engineers

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT –The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is going in the right direction in raising salaries of hundreds of engineers to curb high turnover and costly contracts for private engineers, several state lawmakers said Tuesday.

But concerns also were raised about state pay to other professionals and skilled workers who are leaving state government to find better-paying jobs in the private sector.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said he was not begrudging better pay for transportation engineers but said he was concerned about pay for correctional officers, social workers, prosecutors, public defenders and teachers.

“If we are going to start handing out increases in pay, there are others to look at, too. I’m frustrated,” said Westerfield, who is running this year for attorney general against Democrat Andy Beshear of Louisville.

Westerfield said he saw in news reports that some of the engineers receiving raises were “already making six figures.”

The average annual salary for engineers before the increase ranged from $109,764 for transportation engineer directors to $30,137 for transportation engineer technologists I.

Senate Transportation Chairman Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, noted that the Road Fund, which pays salaries in the Transportation Cabinet, is separate from the General Fund, which pays salaries of most state workers.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Tuesday that about 550 engineers in the Transportation cabinet received raises on June 16 averaging 20 percent to follow an order from Kentucky’s 2014 General Assembly for the state to make the salaries more competitive with similar jobs in surrounding states and private businesses.

The pay hike will cost about $7.8 million a year. The money is expected to come from savings in personal-service contracts used to hire outside engineers.

Members of the state legislature’s Transportation Committee received information about the pay hike Tuesday from human resource officials Mary Elizabeth Bailey in the Personnel Cabinet and Carol Beth Martin in the Transportation Cabinet.

Much of the reaction from the lawmakers was favorable.

Harris said the money for the pay hike is “well spent” compared to the escalating cost of contracts for outside engineers. The cabinet last year spent $150.7 million for professional engineering service contracts, compared to $101.7 million in 2004.

Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, said the salary jump is needed.

Two Republican senators –Albert Robinson of London and Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon – asked the human resources officials to determine how much retirement benefits will cost with the salary increases.

Higdon also said the cabinet should look at raising the number of weekly hours worked by the engineers from 37.5 to 40 to boost their pay.

The cabinet is considering that change, said spokesman Chuck Wolfe.

It would cost an additional $5.6 million but would also affect about 500 engineer technologists who did not get the raises last month, he said.

Former natural resources secretary Carl Bradley dies

By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – Carl Bradley, who was state natural resources secretary in the administration of the late Gov. Wallace Wilkinson, died Thursday at his home in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was 89
Bradley’s son, David Bradley, confirmed the death. He said his father died of natural causes and had turned 89 on Tuesday.
Carl Bradley served in the Wilkinson administration from 1988 until he resigned in October 1991.
Bradley, a native of Muhlenberg County, was named natural resources secretary soon after Wilkinson took office. He had been an assistant to the natural resources secretary for a year before that.
He formerly had worked in the state Transportation Cabinet, the Department of Highways and the old Revenue Department.
Bradley served in the Army in World War II and the Korean War. In 1953, he was graduated from the University of Kentucky.
Bradley was parks commissioner for Jefferson County when the county was hit hard by tornadoes in April 1973.
His son said Bradley was “as proud of the tornado clean-up as anything he had done.”
Bradley also worked in the coal industry.
A private memorial service for Bradley will be held in Hattiesburg, Miss., his son said.

Kentucky property tax rate remains unchanged since 2008


FRANKFORT -Kentucky’s property tax rate for 2015 will remain as it has been since 2008.

The state Department of Revuene announced Wednesday that it has set the 2015 state real property tax rate at 12.2 cents per $100 of assessed valued.

Stat law requires the department to set the real property rate no later than July 1 of each year.

The rate is based on the revenue generated from the increase in taxable real property assessments from 2014 to 2015.

If the revenue increase is more than 4 percent after the exclusion of new property added to the tax roll during 2015, then the prior year rate must be reduced.

Because the assessment increase for 2015 is estimated at 2.78 percent, the state rate will remain the same as the 2014 rate, 12.2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

All of the moneygenerated from the state property tax rate will go into the state’s General Fund, which pays for most state programs.