Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ky. governor leaves ag-development money alone, asks coal severance tax funds for mine safety

Dealing with what he calls an unprecedented financial crisis, new Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, right, nevertheless kept hands off two popular rural programs in the budget he presented to the legislature last night, and noted them in his speech to a joint session of the House and Senate.

Beshear, a Democrat elected in November, said half of the state's share of the national tobacco settlement should continue to go to the Agricultural Development Fund, which uses about $100 million a year for projects and programs to improve the state's agricultural economy. "I feel strongly about keeping our commitment to agriculture," Beshear said to applause. "We must increase net farm income." He also won applause when he called for expansion of the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center.

Beshear also said the state must continue to share coal severance tax revenue with coal-producing counties, but called for using some of that money to increase mine inspections and safety training previously authorized but not funded by the legislature. And in another boon to the state's coalfields (Kentucky is the only state with two), he called for a $50 million bond pool to finance water and sewer projects in coal-producing counties. The lack of any such proposal for non-coal counties was noted by state Senate President David Williams, the legislature's top Republican, who represents one of the state's most rural districts, one with relatively little coal production.

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