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Feb. 23, 17

Congress, White House Working Together to Bring Relief to Coal Country

By Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

As the Obama Administration packed its boxes and prepared to leave office, the former president took a parting shot at Appalachian coal communities, who have already been some of the areas most hurt by his coal policies.  After eight years of anti-coal executive actions, the Obama Administration added insult to injury with its Stream Buffer Rule.

This regulation was a blatant attack on coal jobs and the communities they support.  It would have impacted both surface and underground mining.  It took authority away from states and contradicted federal law.  That’s why one national newspaper called this rule “a power grab aimed at giving federal regulators more authority to make coal too expensive for anyone to mine or use.”

Even worse, one study estimated that the Stream Buffer Rule would have put as many as one-third of coal-related jobs at risk.

When miners lose their jobs, the economic effects extend far beyond one family.  In coal country, teachers and first responders are losing their jobs because communities don’t have the tax revenue to pay their salaries.  Small businesses can’t afford to operate when their customers can’t pay for their products and services.  We have all seen the growth of drug abuse that devastates families in these areas and contributes further to the perpetual cycle of unemployment.

The status quo is unacceptable.  We cannot allow the legacy of the Obama Administration to continue damaging our communities.

Luckily, supporters of coal workers finally have a friend in the White House.  The election of President Trump signaled the change coming to Washington.  Throughout his campaign, Trump inspired the American people with a vision of fewer regulations and a fair, competitive marketplace.  In a recent letter I sent to then President-elect Trump about the coal industry, I urged him to join with us against job-killing regulations, including the Stream Buffer Rule.

Now, Congress and the new Administration are working together to finally bring relief to communities hurting across the country.

Kentucky deserves better than a targeted rule to put miners out of work.  Washington should support efficient and safe ways to mine and use coal - an American commodity which provides affordable and reliable power for our homes, businesses, and communities.  That’s what I have long supported, and I am thankful we finally have a president who agrees.

Last December, I vowed to fight back against the Stream Buffer Rule.  I kept my promise to coal families, and, with a Republican president, we won.

Legislation, identical to what I introduced in the Senate, has already made its way through Congress to stop this disastrous rule and bring relief to coal miners and their families.  I am heartened to know so many of my colleagues recognized the problems facing coal country, and I am glad that they joined with me to address them.

Of all the Obama Administration’s onerous regulations, I chose to address the Stream Buffer Rule first because of the devastating impact it would have had on Kentucky families.

Both houses passed the McConnell Resolution, and President Trump signed it into law.  I am grateful for his help, and I look forward to working with him in the future to protect coal families and communities.  More regulations will be repealed, but this was a crucial place to start.

We were proud to have many partners in this fight.  The opposition to this rule was not a partisan issue.  Both Republicans and Democrats recognized that this rule was destructive to miners, their families, and their communities.

That’s why the Kentucky Coal Association, the United Mine Workers of America, and Attorneys General from 14 states, including Kentucky, joined together to put an end to one of President Obama’s final attacks on coal.

Last November, voters sent Republican majorities to Congress and a Republican president to the White House.  Now, we can begin to undo the damage of the Obama Administration.  Together, we can all work to bring real relief to coal country.



Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

A wide array of bills were heard in committees and voted out of the Senate in a busy and exciting third week of the 2017 Session. Because this year’s 30-day meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly is considered a “short session,” we make sure we maximize our time here in Frankfort.

We passed nearly 20 bills this week with topics ranging from tobacco use on school property to campaign finance reform to transportation issues. One of the most noteworthy bills, however, is Senate Bill (SB) 14, which strengthens penalties for trafficking in heroin. Kentucky made national news these past few weeks for the rash of devastating overdoses that occurred. In Louisville, for example, there were over 50 overdoses in a 32-hour period—a number that was previously unheard of. People dealing heroin are dealing in death, and they must be stopped.

Another important piece of legislation the Senate passed this week was SB 1, which is comprehensive education reform that is desperately needed to help our school system. With approval from teachers, administrators, and other education stakeholders from across the commonwealth, SB 1 allows teachers to teach and returns control to our local districts. I am happy to report this bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support and is now heading to the House for consideration.

We also passed SB 117, which would allow a veteran with a bachelor’s degree in any area to be issued a provisional teaching certificate if other criteria are met. This legislation would ultimately make it easier for veterans to teach in a classroom. I am dedicated to helping our veterans easily integrate back into the workplace, and this bill is one tool in the toolbox to do just that.

The Senate has already started to receive House bills, and we have sent Senate bills to the House for their approval. Many of you have already reached out to me regarding certain pieces of legislation, and I appreciate your input and concerns. I urge you to continue making your voices heard in Frankfort.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents the 16th District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties.  He is chairman of the Enrollment Committee and the Government Nonprofit Contracting Task Force; Vice Chair of the Education Committee; co-chair of the Government Contract Review Committee; as well as a member of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee; the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; and the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee. He is the Chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation and a member of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. He is also a member of the Education and Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee, the Tourism Development Subcommittee.


Feb. 16, 17

Legislative Update by: Senator Max Wise

The hallways were packed with Kentuckians from across the state making their voices heard as we began the second part of the 2017 Legislative Session in Frankfort. I was especially heartened at the passionate and robust-sized crowd attending the “Rally for Life” on Wednesday, February 8, and later in the evening that energy and excitement continued during Governor Bevin’s State of the Commonwealth Address.

Hundreds of people filled the Capitol to celebrate the sanctity of life alongside Governor Bevin and members of the General Assembly. The governor ceremonially signed Senate Bill (SB) 5 and House Bill (HB) 2, both pro-life bills that help protect unborn Kentuckians who cannot protect themselves. As Governor Bevin noted, 83 percent of the General Assembly supported these bills—a great reflection of the pro-family values of Kentuckians—and I was proud to be a member of those ranks.  I was honored to be a guest speaker at the rally and voice my support for Senate Bill (SB) 8, the effort to defund Planned Parenthood in Kentucky.  I sponsored this bill last session and am carrying the bill again this year.

During the State of the Commonwealth Address, the governor told compelling stories from citizens across the commonwealth both praising our state’s progress and offering suggestions for improvement. From addressing tax reformation to our pension crisis to assistance for veterans, Governor Bevin hit the nail on the head when he outlined these issues.  I look forward to continually working with him to solve these problems.

Between the rallies and visits from citizens from across the commonwealth, the Senate was busy hearing bills in committee and passing some out of the chamber. Although this week was not quite as hectic as the first week of session in January, we kept a quick pace and sent four bills to the House.

Senate Bill 2 encourages transparency and accountability in the state pension system. This bill passed unanimously from the Senate, and I am proud to stand up for taxpayers and retirees alike by taking another step toward fixing our broken pension system. We also passed SB 18, which protects the confidentiality of peer review information conducted by doctors.

Senate Bill 50 was another bill that passed with bipartisan support. This legislation gives local school districts control over their school calendars, giving them the option to push back their school start dates so families have more time to enjoy the summer months. Senate Bill 17, which protects students’ rights to religious and political speech, was the last bill to pass this week.  I was proud to cosponsor this bill and allow our young people the right to express themselves politically and religiously in our public schools and universities.

I would like to thank all those in my district who have taken the time to reach out with their questions, concerns, and support. It is an honor to be in Frankfort on your behalf.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents the 16th District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties.  He is chairman of the Enrollment Committee and the Government Nonprofit Contracting Task Force; Vice Chair of the Education Committee; co-chair of the Government Contract Review Committee; as well as a member of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee; the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; and the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee. He is the Chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation and a member of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. He is also a member of the Education and Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee, the Tourism Development Subcommittee.

Feb. 9, 17

Citizen involvement is good for the County

It was encouraging to see so many citizens at the last two Fiscal Court meetings. It is a shame that it takes something like the threat of raised taxes to elicit such a response, however.

Typically there are only a small amount of citizens who habitually show up for the monthly meetings.  But that number seems to be growing and that can only be a good thing.

An informed and active citizenry is vital for our government to grow, thrive and prosper. Without seeing people’s faces when they make decisions that affect all of us, our elected leaders would be hard pressed to realize the impact those decisions have.

We encourage this trend of citizen involvement to continue.

The next few months will be crucial to the future of McCreary County.  We need the people of this community to be invested in holding our government accountable every day, not just during elections.

Your involvement in the way your tax dollars are spent is critical to the health of our county. If it is necessary to cut services, you should have a voice in that decision.  Likewise, if taxes are raised, it should be done fairly with your sentiments heard.  We urge you to stay informed on all aspects of local government and voice your opinion, whether you agree or disagree.  The decisions made by local government today affect us all tomorrow and for years to come.

All government, local, state and federal, should be by and for the people.  See you at the next fiscal court meeting.

Guest Commentary

New Kentucky must overcome old politics

By David Brock - The State Journal

We wish much success to former state Auditor Adam Edelen and others behind a new group that seeks to make Kentucky governance less political and more about finding the elusive common ground on issues of the day. It’s hard to think of a more noble pursuit.

Unfortunately, it took a wave of stinging Democratic defeats — starting with Edelen’s own ouster and Matt Bevin’s upset gubernatorial victory in 2015 and culminating with Republicans’ takeover of the state House of Representatives in November — to spark the New Kentucky Project.

Had Democratic backers of the nonprofit organization started it a few years ago, when their party was still in power, it would have had more credibility — and perhaps more Republican participation.

As it stands, Republicans were conspicuously absent from the New Kentucky Project’s Ideas Conference, which drew 600-plus Saturday in Lexington. Supposedly, a couple of GOP lawmakers wanted to attend but were told to stay away.

Compromise always appeals most to the side that’s out of power. For many years in Kentucky, that was the GOP. The tables have turned now, and humbled Democrats, staring at an electoral map with deepening shades of red, have decided that compromise isn’t such a bad thing after all.

To the victor goes the spoils, and in America’s two-party system, the ruling party has little interest in power sharing.

“When people have absolute power, they don’t have an incentive to reach to the other side, and that’s an issue,” said Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones, who helped Edelen launch the New Kentucky Project.

Jones said the group will try a bottom-up approach, adding that he was heartened by grassroots participation in Saturday’s Ideas Conference.

Much as we’d like to see a wave of bipartisanship roll through the Capitol this week, Jones is right. Politicians will sow the seeds of common ground only after citizens have tilled it.

Nation must find a way past the political divide

By Chip Hutcheson - The Times Leader

It seems as though the political divide in this country worsens with each passing day. So much that it makes you weary of watching the evening TV news. You become prone to skip over posts on social media which, quite often, are irresponsible, to say the least.

Count me among the multitude in the “fed up with it all” category.

I don’t care how large the crowd was at the Trump inauguration. In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make if it was larger or smaller than the Obama inauguration.

I will be quick to say people have the right to protest, but not the right to break store windows and set vehicles on fire. The election might not have gone to suit you, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to have a child-like temper tantrum.

Ashley Judd’s vulgar remarks and Madonna’s comment that she had thought “an awful lot about blowing up the White House” tarnished the women’s march on D.C. We cannot reprint some of what Ashley Judd said because this is a family newspaper. She proudly proclaimed that she is a nasty woman, a loud, vulgar proud woman.” That’s a disgraceful statement.

And did you notice the attention given to President Trump’s statement “America first.” People in foreign countries were asked their opinion about that. Who cares? Surely every American has the sentiment that yes, it is “America first.”

The more I pondered the craziness surrounding the Trump inauguration, the more I thought back to presidents who I did not vote for and did not think would be good in that position. But I don’t recall people protesting and drawing a line in the sand. Sure I have some misgivings about Trump, but I’m willing to give him ample opportunity to show he can deliver on his promises.



Feb. 2, 17

Legislative Column

Early Session Leads to Pro-Growth Bills

Following the legislative early session on January 7th, Governor Bevin signed seven new bills into law. Three of the bills will provide economic growth and increased job opportunities for Kentuckians by better positioning the state to become the manufacturing and engineering hub of excellence in the United States.

House Bill 1 grants right-to-work protections to all of Kentucky’s workers. Contrary to claims by the bill’s opponents that this measure was somehow “against the worker,” studies show right-to-work laws spur economic growth. Tennessee, a right-to-work state, currently creates 20,000 more jobs per year than Kentucky. One third of Fortune 500 companies will not relocate or expand to a state that is not right-to-work. In some cases, Kentucky union workers were going to Indiana and Michigan to find jobs, both of which are right-to-work states where job growth is expanding for both union and non-union workers.

“I applaud this historic action by the General Assembly. It will be transformative in the way Kentucky competes economically and, as Kentucky begins to attract and retain more business, our workforce could see explosive growth,” Governor Bevin said. Likewise, Senate Bill 6, known as the “paycheck protection bill,” gives Kentucky workers the choice of whether they want union dues deducted from their paychecks, giving them the ability to associate freely and do what they wish with their hard-earned dollars.

One other bill, House Bill 3, repeals Kentucky’s prevailing wage law. The original law required construction workers on certain public projects be paid a “prevailing wage.” The law made determination of what the wage should be difficult and cumbersome. It also prevented the state of Kentucky from awarding construction projects to the lowest bidder, thus driving costs to the taxpayer upward. One policy paper estimated the prevailing wage law cost Kentucky taxpayers approximately $136.8 million annually.

These pieces of legislation will allow Kentucky to make great strides toward becoming the best version of itself. Though some critics claim that being a right-to-work state depresses wages, studies conducted in other right-to-work states demonstrate that the opposite is true. As the economy expands, demand for skilled labor rises, leading employers to compete for workers. This competition results in increased wages.

Guest Commentary

What are we becoming? 

Nokia, a firm that makes electronic products, reported that cell phone users were checking their devices 150 times a day. Pew Research reported that young adults are sending an average of 110 text messages per day. A survey by another firm, Tecmark, excluded single purpose cell phones and considered only “smart phone” usage and found that people were checking their devices 221 times per day.

What do we gain by this obsession? What do we lose? In a bygone era, we gathered to bowl or play cards or chess or play pool or play a sport. We came together at social events where we talked to friends and neighbors. There isn’t much humanness in an electronic screen. If you were stranded on a remote island with only an electronic device for company, you would surely be lonely. Are we in the process of becoming stranded in a crowd of people, isolated from friends and neighbors?

Celebrities employ public relations agents who attempt to promote and maintain a particular image for the celebrity among fans who are unknown to the celebrity. That public image may differ considerably from the real person. Now, we are seeing young people promoting an image of themselves on the internet. Some of the information that people post about themselves can be a self-inflicted wound. A Harris Poll conducted in 2016 determined that 60 percent of employers check online social media when they are screening job applicants, and 49 percent of those employers have rejected an applicant because of the information posted online.

There are other disturbing issues associated with electronic devices. Professor Sam Wineburg, supervisor of a Stanford Graduate School of Education study, reports “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet. Young students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from. . . .” Nancy Colier writing in her book, The Power of Off, states that “. . .texting while driving is now the leading cause of death among teen drivers, taking 3,000 lives per year and causing 300,000 injuries. . . .” LTC Dave Grossman, US Army (Ret.) was a psychology instructor at the West Point Military Academy. He is now a consultant to police departments. He expresses a concern that young people who play violent video games are adversely affected by that form of entertainment. LTC Grossman makes a book length argument in Assassination Generation that many of the school shootings and other violent incidents in recent years are related to obsessive use of violent video games. He writes “. . .violent video games. . .are  warping the minds and behavior of children around the world.” “. . .these games. . .teach millions of children to derive pleasure from human suffering.” “. . .violent media consumers [display] a severely limited ability to process rational thought.”

According to Michigan Medicine, an online information program sponsored by the University of Michigan, “An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18.”

Many useful things can be used inappropriately. Explosives are very useful for construction projects but can also be used to kill people. Trucks are a vital part of our economy but can also be rammed into a crowd of people. Prescription medicines are very useful but can be misused. Electronic devices are convenient and very useful, but they can be misused to our detriment. Some old fashioned discipline might be appropriate.

Jack Stevenson

Pensacola, FL 

 

Jan. 26, 17

Court operating on hope and a prayer budget

The Fiscal Court has known since June that this current budget was unrealistic.  How did they think this fantasy budget was going to balance or that we would be able to pay the bills?  Perhaps with pixie dust and a wave of the magic wand.  Their thought process is baffling.

Our officials have an elected duty to operate this county’s government with the same efficiency and monetary expedience necessary to keep the county operating for the benefit of its tax paying citizens.  Certainly this is a trying time with costs rising and revenue not keeping up with the increases.

We are six months into this fiscal year and they are just now figuring out we have a problem.  Knowing this was a problem looming over their heads, why haven’t our Judge-Executive and Magistrates been working together to find solutions?

The Magistrates and Judge-Executive need to have current facts on the status of the county.  They must be knowledgeable on our budget, current expenditures and owed bills. This information must be accurate, up to date and shared between them. No Magistrate should walk into a court meeting without knowing where the County stands fiscally. To say “we are on budget “in November and in a crisis in December is irresponsible.

The Magistrates have a duty to know and understand the fiscal obligations and condition of the County and it is the Judge-Executive’s responsibility to furnish accurate, up to date, correct information.  The fact that Occupation tax and Profits tax are reported in one number is disturbing.  This is two different income streams – one from wages and one from business profits.  Without knowing what each number is, it is impossible to know the wage growth or decline.

Meeting our growing expenses without growth is almost impossible.  The Cordell Trucking Company would have provided much needed occupation tax revenue. Unfortunately, our Judge’s office lacked the business acumen to locate them in this county.

Money is budgeted for economic development.  What good is that doing the county?  We need more than “hope and a prayer” – we need a plan with qualified people to execute it.

Jan. 19, 17

Is it fair?

The budget crisis continues to plague the County, and seems to get worse every day, one possible option for the Fiscal Court to consider is implementing an insurance premium tax.

While the Fiscal Court has only limited ways of raising revenue, Judge Stephens has stated this particular tax would be a fair and equitable tax on the citizens.

In looking through the proposed first draft of the ordinance there are some concerns about the “fairness” of the tax.

According to the ordinance exempted parties include:  “a. Policies of group health insurance provided for state employees under KRS 18A.225.”

Looking closely at that statute reveals that “any elected public official, who is regularly employed by any department, office, board, agency, or branch of  state government; or by a public postsecondary educational institution; or by any city, urban county, charter county, county, or consolidated local government, whose legislative body has opted to participate in the state sponsored health insurance program,” would be exempt.

As well as: “Any certified or classified employee of a local board of education. Any elected member of a local board of education and beneficiaries of participating employees and retirees who are entitled to participate in the state sponsored health insurance program.”

Also: “McCreary County Fiscal Court and associated entities shall be exempt.”

What that means is most teachers, state road workers, elected officials, county employees and any other state employee participating in their offered health insurance plan will not be subject to the tax on their health insurance.

What are the two biggest employers in McCreary County? The government and school system.

Additionally, language in the ordinance calls for an exemption for people receiving insurance through Kentucky Access – a program that no longer provides coverage and was replaced by KYnect in 2014.

That brings up two questions.

First, does that mean citizens receiving health benefits through Obamacare are exempt?

Second: Did Judge Stephens simply copy and paste an ordinance from another county without reading it first and understanding what it entailed?

The implementation of such a tax would hurt, as most taxes do. But it would only hurt a select few of the citizens of McCreary County.

The County needs money; there is no question of that.

But perhaps the only “fair” way to get out of this hole is to raise the Occupational Tax and bring in more jobs.

It may not be a pleasant opinion, but that way more people share the burden instead of a few.


Senator Wise to hold town hall

Senator Max Wise recently announced a series of dates for his annual town hall meetings across his district.

The senator will be in McCreary County on Friday January 20th at 5:00 p.m. at Papa’s Pizza in Stearns. The meeting will be Wise’s final stop on a four-day series of meetings in each of the seven counties in his Senatorial District.

He will begin Friday in Clinton County before traveling to Wayne County for a 3:00 p.m. town hall prior to the McCreary County event.

“Town halls offer a great opportunity for constituents throughout my District who elected me into office to have the opportunity to express their ideas, opinions, concerns and participate in the legislative process,” Wise said in a press release. “I value being an advocate of my District and always listening to them on any issue as a member of our great Commonwealth’s state legislature.”



Jan. 12, 17

Crisis mode - again

Well that was not unexpected.

Judge Executive Doug Stephens called a special session to notify the Fiscal Court of impending budget shortfalls – something anyone with any common sense could see coming when they first passed the budget last June.

That budget, with an unrealistic reduction in expected jail-related expenses, served only one purpose – to pass a balanced budget.

But there were never any real expectations that the Fiscal Court would be able to curtail spending, or raise additional revenue that would make the budget realistic.

Now, with less than six months before the end of the fiscal year the Fiscal Court has to make some tough choices if they expect to finish the year on budget.

In one aspect Judge Stephens is correct; there is very little in the existing budget that can be cut to make up the $350,000 projected deficit.

Layoffs, cutting expenses and eliminating programs may allow the County to squeeze about $100,000 out of the budget, but that still leaves us a quarter of a million dollars short.

It is an emergency, and there may be little choice for the Fiscal Court other than to raise revenue through taxes to get by.

But, the only way the Fiscal Court can raise enough revenue to cover the shortfall would be to raise the occupational tax: as we see it.

It is that simple.

There is no magic solution in cutting salaries, programs, or positions that can conceivably make up that difference.

Other revenue generating possibilities available to the Fiscal Court are either too little, or too late.

A restaurant tax, which has been bandied about for a while, has special requirements that only allow the collected taxes to be spent on tourism-related expenses. While it may ease the burden on the General Fund to replace some of that money, it certainly would not be enough to cover the deficit in less than six months.

An insurance tax would bring in about $1 million, but the tax can only be implemented at the start of a fiscal year. Even if it passed, it would be at least October until the county sees any revenue flow in – far too late to save this year’s budget.

The same with raising property taxes: too little, and too late.

When this budget passed last June it didn’t take a lot of foresight to see the potential problems looming down the road.

Judge Stephens’ announcement should have come as no surprise, but here we are.

In a November Fiscal Court meeting Deputy Judge Randy Jones was asked where the County stood in regards to the budget and he replied, “as of last month we are on budget.”

What happened in the past three months that the budget went from “on budget” to $350,000 in the hole?

Unless a miracle happens and the Fiscal Court can figure out a way to squeeze blood from the stone that is our budget, the OC Tax is the only immediately viable option.

Raising that tax will solve the budget issue – temporarily. But it will create more long term problems down the road. Problems such as shrinking the business sector of McCreary County more, and no new businesses will likely look to locate here after this. More workers leaving and more families struggling.

This administration has done next to nothing over the past few years to improve economic conditions in McCreary County. Sure, they have made strides in tourism, but that obviously isn’t enough.

You have to question if this is an orchestrated attempt to raise the OC Tax without time for public comment or time to find other alternatives. Seems we have seen the same tactic before, such as with the garbage contract.

Isn’t it time for things to change at the top?

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

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