Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

December 18, 2013

Are we God’s country…or God forsaken?


Dec. 18, 2013 — Where is the only major part of Kentucky you can’t reach by a four-lane highway from Central Kentucky?

Which area of Kentucky has the lowest educational achievement?

What section of Kentucky has the highest unemployment rates?

Where is home for the unhealthiest citizens of Kentucky?

Which region of Kentucky historically has been almost totally dependent on a single, now endangered industry?

What section of Kentucky has been the most politically and economically exploited in the last 100 years?

Each answer, of course, is East Kentucky, particularly the easternmost counties against the Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee borders.

A high powered group of public officials, educators, business leaders and local citizedns put together a one-day conference earlier this month in Pikeville.

It was called SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) and it attracted 1,700 persons.

It was a bi-partisan, even noble, idea by our Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, and our Republican congressman, Hal Rogers.

The objective was to stop talking and start doing something about a new future for this under-served, underprivileged, underdeveloped, undernourished, and undereducated group of Kentuckians.

Pardon our sarcasm, but all of those terms are used freely at the national level to describe those of us who live in this beautiful region.

Surprisingly, at least to some reporters covering the event, considerable time was spent seriously examining what has revitalized an area of Minnesota left destitute when iron ore mining petered out, much like coal seems to be doing in our mountains.

The big difference between their situation and ours is that they used their minerals extraction tax, known here as coal severance, to create a development fund to create public service jobs and for other worthwhile purposes in the building of a new economic system.

Kentucky also has a minerals tax but we put half of it into the state general fund where millions have been used to finance projects for folks in other parts of the state who’ve likely never seen a coal truck.

Coal severance money is political capital and it is cherished.

In fact, we doubt you could get the General Assembly to give up their half at gunpoint.

Minnesota also has a non-partisan planning group in charge of their economic comeback.

We tried that in Kentucky under former Gov. Brereton Jones with the Kentucky Appalachian Commission in the early 1990’s.

However, that group was politicized during the two terms of former Gov. Paul Patton and then junked by former Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

How many second chances do we have left?