Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

January 15, 2014

Is pork an endangered species in Frankfort?


Journal-Times

Jan. 15, 2014 — The 138 members of the Kentucky General Assembly returned to Frankfort last week for their bi-annual, 60-day budget session.

This is supposed to be the time when major fiscal issues like additional pension reform, restoring public school funding, and tax reform get the attention they deserve.

Casino gambling also will try to make a comeback but this time with more supporters.

However, this is also the year when all 100 House members and half of the 38 senators must stand for reelection.

This election year is even more important because Republicans are making a statewide push to capture five more House seats to become the majority party in that chamber as they have been in the Senate for the past decade.

After off-year elections to fill a couple of vacancies, the Democrats hold only a 54-46 advantage during this session.

Until a few years ago when the economy went into the dumper, budget sessions in election years resulted in a flood of capital appropriations – also known as pork barrel projects – for the folks back home.

Bragging about how much money you brought home from Frankfort was the standard opening line for many House and Senate members, especially in leadership, when they went out on the campaign trail.

But that was before Gov. Steve Beshear and the legislature had to cut about $1.6 billion from the state budget because of revenue shortfalls.

And that was before coal took a nosedive, both in market price and production figures, and coal severance tax revenue dropped like a piece of slate.

Coal severance revenue is important because half of those millions don’t go back to the counties in either the east or west coalfields.

That money was divvied up among most of the legislators, particularly leadership, for so-called “community” projects.

Rumor has it that coal severance has dipped so dramatically that there won’t be enough in that fund to pay for the college scholarships established in 2012 for students from coal counties.

It’s anybody’s guess where the governor and legislature will find the tens of millions to finish widening the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway to four lanes from Campton to Prestonsburg.

That grandiose, perhaps cynical, promise came out of the recent SOAR summit meeting where 1,700 folks showed up to hear about new ideas on how to rebuild the economy of East Kentucky.

If money truly is the mother’s milk of politics, don’t be surprised if we hear hunger cries from lawmakers before the session ends in April.