RSS

RSSAll Entries in the "State Government" Category

Country ham, redeye gravy and political speculation

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James ComerBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

LOUISVILLE – Political talk spiced up the 51st annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast early Thursday morning at the Kentucky State Fair.

Dozens of politicians gave as many media interviews as possible and circulated among the 1,600 early risers to feast on country ham, redeye gravy, scrambled eggs, grits, hot biscuits and political speculation.

Republican candidates for governor

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said he has chosen his running mate in next May’s Republican primary election for governor, but would not announce his choice until he officially declares his candidacy at a Sept. 9 news conference in his hometown of Tompkinsville.

Widespread speculation has focused on state Sen. Christian McDaniel of Kenton County.

Comer repeated his belief that a millionaire Republican from Jefferson County – a reference to Louisville businessman Hal Heiner – will not be the next governor of Kentucky.

He said he is “strong” in the state’s largest city, noting that state Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, is supporting him.

“After Sept. 9, you are going to see a steady stream of key endorsements from Republicans leaders in Jefferson County,” Comer said.

Heiner, who announced his candidacy in March, dismissed Comer’s prediction.

“What I am hearing is that the Democratic candidate (Attorney General Jack Conway) is from Jefferson County and that the Republican nominee had better be able to hold it close in Jefferson County,” said Heiner, a former Louisville mayoral candidate. “I know from my past involvement in Jefferson County, I’m the candidate who could do that.”

Heiner said he is traveling “full-time” across the state, visiting 60 counties in the last five months.

Heiner said he will be a governor who will create jobs, protect the state’s “best natural resource – coal,” and be as transparent as possible.

Conway, the only other announced candidate for governor, did not attend the breakfast. He was in Washington for a news conference with five other state attorneys general and U.S. Department of Justice officials to announce a $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America Corp. to resolve federal and state claims about mortgage-backed securities.

2016 race for U.S. Senate

Two prominent Democrats have been mentioned as possible candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

That’s when the seat now held by Republican Rand Paul of Bowling Green is up for election. Paul is considering a possible run for the U.S. presidency in that year that could take him out of the U.S. Senate race.

State Auditor Adam Edelen of Lexington said before Thursday’s breakfast that “Rand Paul is in the business of running for two jobs at once. I’m not. I’m looking forward to being a candidate for state auditor (in 2015).”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said, “I’m hearing a lot of people tell me that’s a good idea for me to do. But what I’m telling them is that I am awfully happy being mayor of Louisville and we have a lot of work left to do.”

For the health of it

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who arrived early at the breakfast, said he was prepared for all the political talk that accompanies one of the state’s premier political events.

“I had to take two Pepto-Bismol this morning so I wouldn’t get sick over breakfast hearing (U.S. Sen.) Mitch McConnell and Jamie Comer brag about themselves about all the things they have done,” Stumbo said.

Cha-Ching! State begins new fiscal year on positive note

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s new fiscal year is getting off to a positive start.

State budget director Jane Driskell reported Monday that Kentucky’s General Fund, which pays for most programs, saw its receipts total $705.9 million in July, a 2.2 percent increase over the same month last year.

July was the first month of the state’s new 2015 fiscal year.

When the last fiscal year ended June 30, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear had to plug a $91 million shortfall in the state’s $9.5 billion budget after a year of sluggish collections on state income taxes.

He did that by dipping into budget accounts of several state agencies, taking $21.2 million from the state’s $98.2 million” rainy day” or emergency fund and cutting $3 million in state spending.

Driskell said the General Fund growth of 2.2 percent in July is “a positive sign – especially since our two largest taxes – individual income and sales tax – grew at robust levels of 5.9 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively.

“Our expectations are that the underlying economic momentum continues to build.”

The official revenue estimate for fiscal year 2015 calls for revenue to increase 3.6 percent compared to last year’s actual receipts.

Based on July’s results, General Fund revenues need to increase 3.7 percent for the remainder of the fiscal year to meet the official estimate.

Among the state’s major accounts in July, individual income tax receipts rose 5.9 percent, sales tax revenue grew 7.6 percent, cigarette tax collections rose 2.3 percent and the payment to the state from the lottery increased by 3.1 percent.

But corporation income tax collections fell 64.6 percent. The state attributed that to a large one-time payment received in July 2013.

In July 2014, coal severance tax revenues declined 14.8 percent and property tax receipts fell 45 percent. Driskell noted that a small share of property tax receipts is received in July.

Driskell also announced that Road Fund revenues for July totaled $125.4 million, an increase of 5.1 percent compared to last July.

“Growth in the important Road Fund accounts was small but positive in July,” she said. “That is good news given that the forecast for fiscal year 2015 has Road Fund receipts declining slightly.”

For July, motor fuels tax receipts rose 2.8 percent, motor vehicle usage tax jumped 1.4 percent and license and privilege taxes grew 36.3 percent. Non-tax receipts dropped 30.9 percent.

The official revenue estimate for this new fiscal year calls for revenues to decline 0.9 percent compared to last year’s actual receipts.

Based on July’s receipts, revenue can fall 1.4 percent for the rest of the fiscal year and still meet budgeted levels.

Bevin blames voters for loss to McConnell

It wasn’t that he praised bailouts, fudged his online résumé or even that he got caught appearing at a pro-cockfighting rally.

No, according to Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, the blame for his loss in the May 20 Republican primary to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell belongs squarely with the voters.

bevin_mcconnell

“We have increasingly less courage in our country, and that’s something we suffer from,” Bevin told Politico. “It’s disappointing to me not even as much as a candidate but as an American, how apathetic and timid we have become as a nation.”

Bevin, who is said to be considering a run for governor, told the Washington, D.C. publication that voters backed McConnell over him because of the senator’s ability to “bring home the bacon.”

“There is still the perception, even though deep down everyone knows the federal government is broke, they think, ‘Well, we might get some goodies,’” Bevin said.

Kentucky shows deep drop in uninsured adults under federal health law

Gov. Steve Beshear delivers his 2014 State of the Commonwealth speech on Jan. 7, 2014, in Frankfort. Photo by Mark Cornelison | StaffBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

The percentage of adults without health insurance in Kentucky has dropped to less than 12 percent, the second largest decline among the states since the federal Affordable Care Act took effect in January, a new poll shows.

Kentucky’s uninsured rate dropped from 20.4 percent last year to 11.9 percent halfway through 2014, a decline of 8.5 percentage points, according to a Gallup Poll released this week.

Only Arkansas saw a larger decline.

“From day one, Kentuckians swarmed our exchange, kynect, eager to gain health insurance coverage, some for the very first time in their lives,” Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement Wednesday touting the new poll. “To see this steep decline in the uninsured rate in such a short period of time reaffirms that kynect is working and we made the right decision for the health and well-being of our citizens.”

President Barack Obama and others have hailed kynect as a national model since it was launched Oct. 1.

At the close of open enrollment on April 15, more than 413,000 Kentuckians had enrolled in health care coverage through kynect. The majority received Medicaid, the government-funded insurance program for the poor and disabled, but more than 82,000 purchased a private insurance plan. Of those, the state said 74 percent qualified for some level of financial assistance to help with their premium costs.

Surveys of kynect enrollees revealed that about 75 percent of applicants who signed up during the initial open enrollment period reported they did not have health insurance prior to signing up for coverage through kynect.

As of July 31, more than 521,000 Kentuckians had enrolled in health care coverage through kynect, Beshear said.

Individuals who qualify for Medicaid may visit kynect to enroll in coverage at any time. Only those individuals who experience a qualifying event, such as the loss of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, may purchase a private health insurance plan outside of the open enrollment period.

The next open enrollment period begins Nov. 15, for coverage effective Jan. 1.

Gallup’s poll is the first nationwide survey of the uninsured in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Results were based on telephone interviews with a random sample of more than 178,000 adult Americans.

3 evangelical leaders ask McConnell and Grimes to participate in forums

McConnellGrimesBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Three Kentucky evangelical leaders are inviting Kentucky’s U.S. Senate candidates – Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes — to participate in three forums “to explore matters of concern to evangelical Christians.”

A news release Monday about the forums said McConnell has accepted the invitation and Grimes is reviewing it.

The two candidates appeared together over the weekend at the Fancy Farm political picnic in Graves County and have agreed to appear at a forum hosted by Kentucky Farm Bureau on Aug. 20.

Grimes has also accepted an invitation to debate on Kentucky Educational Television in October. McConnell has not yet said whether he will attend that debate.

McConnell offered a day after the May primary elections to participate in three “Lincoln-Douglas-style” debates with Grimes before Labor Day with no audience. She declined the offer, but challenged McConnell to debate her on KET and in Beattyville and Pikeville during a speech Saturday at the Fancy Farm picnic in far Western Kentucky.

“We’ve had discussions with multiple outlets about debates and some are more advanced than others,” Josh Holmes, an advisor to McConnell, said Sunday.

The issues forums offered Monday will be hosted by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention; and Bob Russell, retired senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville.

They will be held Aug. 14 at Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Aug. 20 at Highview Baptist Church’s East Campus in Louisville and Aug. 28 at Somerset Christian School in Somerset.

“The purpose of these forums will be to consider the urgent issues now presented to evangelical Christians in American society and in the engagement with our culture,” Mohler said in a news release.

Topics for discussion mentioned by Mohler included “family, marriage, the sanctity of life and religious liberty.”

Russell also mentioned “the freedom to evangelize, racial equality, the persecution of Christians in foreign countries, caring for the poor, justice in the courtroom, defining a just war and the proper treatment of immigrants.”

Each event will begin at 11 a.m. The hosts will moderate an hour of questions and answers with the candidates, who are expected to appear separately. The public is invited to attend the events, which are free.

McConnell is a member of Southeast Christian Church and Grimes is a member of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington.

‘Comment’ will air live Friday night from Fancy Farm

“Comment on Kentucky,” a public affairs show of the Kentucky Educational Television network, will air live Friday night from the grounds of Saturday’s Fancy Farm picnic in Graves County.

The picnic traditionally kicks off fall political campaigns in Kentucky.

The guests for this weekend’s TV show with interim host Bill Bryant of Lexington’s WKYT-TV will be Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service, Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal and Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The show will air live at 8 p.m. EDT.

The Monday, Aug. 4 edition of Kentucky Tonight at 8 p.m. on KET will be preempted by Fancy Farm 2014, a special highlights program.

–Jack Brammer

Lawmaker takes issue with Stumbo’s comments on Ark park

State Rep. Brian LinderBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — State Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, expressed disappointment Thursday over House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s comments this week that the state should not provide tax incentives for a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County.

Linder, who represents Grant, Gallatin and Owen counties in the House’s 61st District, said in a news release that Stumbo’s comments “appear to tell those who want to bring economic opportunity to the commonwealth that Kentucky is closed for business, which only serves to further drive other businesses out of our state.”

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said earlier this week that Grant County needs more economic development but that the use of tax incentives for the park is unconstitutional because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s mandate for separation of church and state.

He predicted that the incentives will be challenged in court and the state would lose.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Authority has given its preliminary approval for as much as $18.25 million in tax incentives for the $73 million first phase of the biblical theme park. It is to consider final approval after a feasibility study is conducted.

The park is to open in two years and will feature a wooden ark 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 55 feet high. It is affiliated with Answers in Genesis, which runs the Creation Museum in Boone County. The museum follows a literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief, contrary to science, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Linder said the proposed Ark Encounter theme park is a tourism-based economic development project that qualifies to receive tax incentives from the state. He said millions of dollars have already been allotted for highway improvements in the area of the proposed theme park’s location

“While Kentucky continues to lose jobs to places like Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas, Speaker Stumbo chooses to attack an economic development project in my community by encouraging lawsuits on tax incentives,” Linder said.

Linder said Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and others are supporting the project “because they understand the huge economic benefits it can bring to the Commonwealth, yet Speaker Stumbo would rather stir up issues instead of considering the opportunities this project will provide to Kentucky families.”

Linder called Stumbo’s comments about the park and religion disingenuous.

“While the Speaker has an issue with a religious theme park receiving tax incentives to provide jobs, he apparently has no problem occupying a chair in the House chambers that has, in large letters, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ behind it,” he said.

Beshear sets up group to help communities hit by natural disasters

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear, by executive order Wednesday, created the Council for Community Recovery and Resiliency or CCRR, a new group that will provide support, leadership and guidance to Kentucky communities drastically impacted by natural disasters.

“Kentuckians have faced an unparalleled number of natural disasters in the past several years – from devastating storms and tornadoes, to dilapidating droughts, to extreme snow, ice and flooding,” Beshear said in a release.

“Through coping with these terrible disasters, Kentucky has developed strong and effective response systems and implemented quality preparedness measures across the state. This new council is another way for Kentucky to stay ahead of the game in natural disaster response.”

The council will be a main resource for communities before, during and after they are affected by disasters – helping them employ the best our state can offer in preparedness, response and recovery, Beshear said.

It also is to serve as an advisory and resource board for Kentucky communities, providing them with technical and financial expertise in preparing and responding to natural disasters.

The group is to be attached to the Department for Local Government and include representatives from several state agencies, including Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Cabinet for Economic Development, Division of Emergency Management, Transportation Cabinet, Kentucky Association of Counties, Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association, Kentucky Association of Area Development District Directors and Kentucky Office of Homeland Security.

During Beshear’s administration, Kentucky has had 11 federally declared natural disasters that have caused deaths, injuries and extreme financial loss and destruction to communities across the state.

–Jack Brammer

State gives preliminary approval to tax incentives for Ark Park

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A group that wants to build a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County won preliminary approval Tuesday of state tax incentives to keep the controversial project afloat.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority unanimously voted to give preliminary approval for tax incentives for a $73 million first phase of the biblical theme park.

An independent consultant for the state now will take about six to eight weeks to review the project. It then will come back to the state panel for final consideration of tax incentives.

Three years ago, the group – Ark Encounter — won approval of incentives for its entire $172.5 million project. But because of funding problems, it withdrew that application and now is seeking approval for $73 million.

Ark Encounter is applying to participate in a program that allows eligible tourism attractions a rebate of 25 percent of the project’s investment. For this application the rebates would be as much as $18.25 million.

The park is expected to open in the summer of 2016.

‘Comment’ will discuss budget shortfall; ‘KY Tonight” will focus on economy

Gov. Steve Beshear’s handling of the state budget shortfall will be one of the topics on this weekend’s “Comment on Kentucky,” a public affairs show of the Kentucky Educational Television network.

Joining interim host Bill Bryant of Lexington’s WKYT-TV to discuss recent news in Kentucky will be three journalists — Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal, Phillip Bailey of WFPL in Louisville and Nick Storm of cn|2 in Louisville.

The show airs live at 8 p.m. Friday on KET.

On the Monday, July 21 edition of “Kentucky Tonight” at 8 p.m. p.m. on KET and at KET.org/live, host Renee Shaw (substituting for Bill Goodman) and guests will discuss jobs and the economy.

Scheduled guests are John Garen, economics professor at the University of Kentucky; Chris Phillips, economics professor at Somerset Community College; Tom Dupree, member of the board of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions; and Anna Baumann, research and policy associate with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to kytonight@ket.org or use the message form at KET.org/kytonight.

Viewers may also submit questions on Twitter @ReneeKET or on KET’s Facebook page, facebook.com/KET. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 1-800-494-7605.

“Kentucky Tonight ” programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET and KET KY. Archived programs, information about podcasts, and broadcast schedules are available at KET.org/kytonight.

“Kentucky Tonight” is a weekly KET production, produced by Deidre Clark. Goodman is host and managing editor.

–Jack Brammer