Beshear urges pension reform measures to help cities, counties

Gov. Steve Beshear this morning urged changes to the state’s retirement systems to allow cities, counties and school districts up to 10 years to meet contribution requirements for pension benefits for their employees.

Gov. Steve Beshear

Gov. Steve Beshear

The change mirrors one proposed by Rep. Mike Cherry, a Princeton Democrat and chair of the House State Government Committee who pre-filed a bill earlier this month that if enacted would allow the 10-year phase-in. 

Beshear estimates that the change would provide $37.5 million in relief to cities, counties and school districts that participate in the County Employees Retirement System, which is part of the Kentucky Retirement Systems. Currently, those entities have five years to bring their contribution rates up to the amount required to make the CERS actuarially sound. 

That change could be approved by the board of the Kentucky Retirement Systems without legislative action, according to Beshear, but would be required with the passage of Cherry’s bill. 

“My proposal will provide more than $37 million of immediate relief to our local governments in a way that keeps our pension systems financially sound for years to come,” Beshear said in a statement released after a press conference in Frankfort. 

The relief comes in that local governments and school districts would make lower payments in the near future, but would make larger payments on the back end of the 10-year period. 

Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Jonathan Miller said the change would cost CERS participants more over the entire period, but would lessen the immediate financial burden for cash-strapped local governments. 

“It’s relief in this next fiscal year,” Miller said. “They’re going to have to make it up later.”

Beshear was joined at the press conference by Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry, Sylvia Lovely, who heads the Kentucky League of Cities, and Bob Arnold, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Counties.

A look at the pre-inauguration Bluegrass Ball

Anne-Marie Kelley, a 1995 grad of Russell High School in eastern Kentucky, is heading preparations for Kentucky’s pre-inauguration Bluegrass Ball in Washington D.C., and reporter Tim Preston with the Ashland Daily Independent caught up with Kelly to see what’s in store for the Jan. 19 affair. 

Kentucky’s is the first ball leading up to President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, and will include a recreation of the state’s famed Bourbon Trail along with bison from the state and the soft drink Ale-8-One, Preston reports. 

From Preston’s article:

The Kentucky Distillers Association has announced the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball will feature a Kentucky Bourbon Trail with exhibits by most of the state’s famed distilleries, including Beam Global Spirits and Wine, Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Bullet Bourbon, Four Roses Bourbon, Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey. Kentucky’s Bluegrass Ball is the first of the inaugural balls and is expected to set the tone for each that follows. Kentucky’s celebration was also declared an “Editor’s Pick” by the Washington Post in 2005.

The ball will offer a distinctly Kentucky flavor with guest chef Michael Paley of Proof in Louisville, and items on the menu will include Kentucky bison, cheeses and Ale-8-One. Flowers will be from the University of Kentucky and each guest will receive a basket of Kentucky-made gifts.

The ball will have more than 1,400 guests including elected leaders and a more than few celebrities from the Bluegrass State. For more about the black-tie affair, visit the web site of the Kentucky Society of Washington.

Beshear to hold press conference on pension reform

Gov. Steve Beshear will be talking about pension reform at a press conference in Frankfort Tuesday. 

While most of the talk about the 2009 legislative session, which begins a week from Tuesday, has centered around the state’s budget shortfall, pension reform and the possibility of building upon measures enacted during this year’s special legislative session will likely be addressed when lawmakers return to Frankfort. 

Rep. Mike Cherry, a Princeton Democrat and chair of the House State Government Committee, has been a leader in the House when it comes to recent pension reform proposals, and has pre-filed a bill relating to how local governments make their contributions to the County Employees Retirement System. 

Cherry’s pre-filed bill would allow local governments a phase-in period of up to 10 years to fully fund contributions to the CERS for retirees health care benefits, a main driver in pension cost increases. 

Other pieces of legislation are sure to come after the session starts, but work on pension reform will likely take a back seat to the immediate concerns over the state’s budget crisis. 

Beshear’s press conference begins at 10 a.m. CST – more details as they’re available.

Legislative leaders on pre-session edition of Kentucky Tonight

Next Monday’s edition of Kentucky Tonight on the eve of the 2009 session of the General Assembly will feature leaders from the House and Senate talking about what lies ahead for the 30-day “short” session. 

Host Bill Goodman will be joined at 7 p.m. CST on KET by – 

  • Kentucky Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville
  • Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green
  • Kentucky Senate Minority Floor Leader Ed Worley, D-Richmond
  • Kentucky House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown 

Be sure to tune in.

Away for the holidays

I’ll be on vacation through Dec. 29 for the holidays, but will get back to posting when I return.

Have a great holiday season!

Three potential brands for Owensboro unveiled

Three new taglines, one of which could help identify the Owensboro community in coming years, were unveiled Wednesday as a branding initiative by local government and business organizations continues to move forward. 

“It’s looking at what attracts you to the community, what the strengths are and what the needs are,” said Nick Brake, president/CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., about the initiative. 

The three brands being offered to the public are:

The public will have the chance to weigh in over the next month on the three brands at and see potential advertisements featuring each of the brands. 

The three possible brands all come from the idea of Owensboro as a community some might not know much about, but where there is a lot to offer, Brake said. 

“It’s seen as a place with a lot of virtues, but that it was relatively unknown,” Brake said. “Our brand needs to convey the message that we have a story to tell and you need to find out what’s going on here.”

Any thoughts on the three options being put out there? Feel free to comment below. 

And read more about the initiative in Thursday’s Messenger-Inquirer.

Coal-to-natural gas plant planned for Muhlenberg County

ConocoPhillips and Peabody Energy announced today that they will be moving forward with plans for a coal-to-natural gas plant in Muhlenberg County near Central City. 

The news came as the partnership filed for an air permit from the state – a first step in the approval process for the facility which the two companies said would produce enough synthetic gas for nearly 750,000 homes. 

The project, called Kentucky NewGas, is expected to require a workforce of 1,200 during its four-year construction and will create 500 long-term jobs, according to a press release from Peabody. 

The facility would be “carbon storage ready,” and the two companies are already helping fund a test project directed by the Kentucky Geological Survey. 

Several lawmakers were quick to offer statements in support of the project. 

From state Sen. Jerry Rhoads – 

“This is an exciting day for our community and our region with the announcement of a state-of-the-art coal-to-natural-gas facility to be located in Muhlenberg County.  The facility is a positive step toward economic revitalization for Muhlenberg County and the entire region and energy independence for our nation.  This-state-of-the-art facility capitalizes on the assets our region offers for clean coal technology — vast coal reserves, water and a strong available workforce.”

And from U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning – 

“America’s energy must be diversified, a coal-to-gas facility is a step in that direction with a direct benefit for Kentucky,” said Bunning.  “Coal-to-gas technology is a clean way to use coal to cure America’s addiction to foreign oil.  I hope that the permit process is expedited, so the estimated $100 million yearly economic benefits could come to the region as soon as possible. In addition to the monetary infusion, 1,200 jobs will be created during the four year construction process as well as 500 permanent jobs once the facility is built.”

Update, 4:12 p.m. …

Plans for the proposed coal conversion plant call for it to be built on an 80-acre site bordering the Green River in Muhlenberg County. 

It’s the same site Peabody Energy had planned to build the controversial, coal-fired Thoroughbred power plant that has been tied up in the permitting process and the courts for years. 

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in September that the state properly issued an air emmissions permit for the power plant, but environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month against the Environmental Protection Agency over the plant. 

Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton said the permit for the Thoroughbred plant has been withdrawn and the two companies will be moving forward with the coal conversion plant instead. 

“We believe the coal-to-gas will create the most value,” Sutton said. “We believe that demand will continue to grow for this high-value product.”

Read more about plans for the plant in Wednesday’s Messenger-Inquirer.

Update, 8:36 p.m. …

Here is a project fact sheet from Peabody about Kentucky NewGas.

KY Food with Wine Coalition announces petition drive

The Kentucky Food with Wine Coalition announced Tuesday that more than 100 supermarkets around the state will hold a petition drive to gauge support for allowing them to sell wine. 

Coalition spokesman Luke Schmidt said the results of the petition drive will help their push to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets. Currently, Kentucky is one of 16 states that does not allow wine sales in grocery stores. 

“Ultimately what we want to be able to do is to demonstrate that consumers across the state want to see this law change,” Schmidt said. 

Rep. Larry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, filed a bill this year to allow for the expansion of wine sales to grocery stores, but that bill was sent to the House Licensing and Occupations Committee and didn’t receive a hearing. 

Schmidt said the coalition, which is a not-for-profit organization of grocery stores formed in 2007, is still working on a piece of legislation and finding a lawmaker to carry it, but those details should come soon. 

“It’s still a little bit early to speculate on that, but our intent is absolutely to bring a bill in the legislature, probably in January or February,” Schmidt said. 

In Owensboro, employees at the three IGA stores gathered signatures  on Friday and Saturday, and employees at the city’s three Kroger stores will be working on the petition drive through Dec. 31.

Governor names Commission on Philanthropy

Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order today creating a state Commission on Philanthropy to help direct charitable efforts in the state .

“State government can’t meet the demand for all the services required by the people of Kentucky, not under the current economic conditions,” Beshear said in a written statement. “We need partners now more than ever, and we must continue to find ways to be responsive to Kentucky families and move the state forward. The time is right to join forces in an unprecedented effort for the greater good of the commonwealth.”

The commission’s first push will be in the area of early childhood education and child health, and a summit organized by the group is planned for June.

The 28-member commission will be chaired by Judith Clabes of Paris who is with the Scripps Howard Foundation and includes Rodney Berry of Owensboro, who heads the Public Life Foundation. 

Other notable members of the commission, which includes members of philanthropic foundations and the business sector, are Billy Harper of Paducah, a Republican who ran for governor in 2007, former UK basketball player Jamal Mashburn of Lexington, and Nick Nicholson, who heads Keeneland in Lexington. Continue reading

Guthrie to speak at Owensboro City Commission meeting

U.S. Rep.-elect Brett Guthrie will be speaking at the Owensboro City Commission meeting Tuesday night. 

Next month Guthrie, a Bowling Green state senator, will fill the seat left vacant by U.S. Rep. Ron Lewis, the Cecilia Republican who has held the seat for 14 years and is retiring. 

Guthrie, also a Republican, beat fellow state Sen. David Boswell of Sorgho to win the seat, which represents a 21-county area including Daviess County. 

No specifics on what Guthrie will be talking about at the meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. at City Hall, 101 E. Fourth St.