House, Senate leaders continue meeting about budget shortfall

House and Senate leaders met yesterday to continue their discussion about the state’s $456 million budget shortfall. 

This is the latest in a series of meetings headed by Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and few details about what’s being discussed are being shared, though those involved say the meetings have been productive. 

“I will tell you I’ve never seen a time in my 20-something years in the General Assembly and my 10 years in leadership where I saw more sincere cooperation, negotiation and condor than we have right now,” Williams told reporters after exiting the 4-hour meeting in the Capitol Annex, according to an article by CNHI’s Ronnie Ellis.

Leaders will be briefing the House and Senate A&R committees today, and will be meeting again on Monday, according to Stephenie Steitzer with the Courier-Journal. 

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort Tuesday to resume this year’s session, which has 26 working days remaining.

A look at blocked streets in Owensboro

Owensboro City Manager Bill Parrish said this afternoon that street crews are moving off the city’s main thoroughfares to begin tackling more neighborhood streets. 

Click here for a look at Owensboro’s local streets still blocked following this week’s winter storms as of 1:30 p.m. today. 

According to Parrish, with most of these blockages are caused by limbs tangled with power lines that will require the help of utility crews and make the streets more difficult to clear. 

“The street department is starting to move into the neighborhoods and clear limbs and spread salt when they can,” Parrish said. “The streets are remarkably clear and the back streets you can negotiate if you just don’t drive too fast.”

In Owensboro as of this afternoon, 17,000 of Owensboro Municipal Utilities customers were still without power, and spokeswoman Sonya Dixon said it will be about a week before the majority of customers have power restored.

Kenergy had 14,000 customers in Daviess County without power and a total of 40,000 of its 53,000 customers in its 14-county service area without power.

President Obama approves KY request for federal disaster relief

President Barack Obama last night signed off on a request from Gov. Steve Beshear for an emergency Presidential Disaster Declaration that will help speed aid to Kentuckians, the governor’s office announced this morning. 

“President Obama called me last night to express his concern about the plight facing our state and many of our people. I appreciate the president’s quick response to our request for a disaster declaration,” Gov. Beshear said in a press release. “We will move quickly to bring power generators, communications equipment and debris removal equipment into the region to help restore power and protect our people in their time of need.”

State officials said close to 600,000 Kentucky utility customers are without power as of this morning, and that number could rise today. The remnants of Hurricane Ike that moved through the state in September left about 600,000 customers without power, a record for the state. 

So far there are three fatalities linked to this week’s storms. 

Beshear has activated about 500 National Guardsmen across the state to help with relief efforts and has issued a request for join public disaster assistance to expedite reimbursement from the federal government for disaster expenses from the federal government. 

Beshear is expected to visit Paducah and Henderson today to survey damage in western Kentucky from the storm.

Calculating impact of insurance premium tax increase

The city of Owensboro has added a tax calculator to its Web site to help residents see the impact of a proposed increase in the insurance premium tax. 

The Owensboro City Commission and Daviess Fiscal Court are considering increasing the tax by 4 percentage points – effectively doubling the city’s rate and raising the county rate to 8.9 percent. 

The proposed increase would fund a $79 million package of projects for downtown including a mixed-use indoor events center, a market square plaza, amenities at Smothers Park and changes to downtown streets. 

Some have criticized the proposed increase as ill-timed because of the current economic conditions while supporters have touted the increase and package of projects as essential to the economic development efforts of the community and the vitality of downtown. 

Along with the tax calculator, the city is also offering answers to frequently asked questions about the project and proposed tax increase.

No indictments in Obama effigy case at UK

The Herald-Leader is reporting that a Fayette County grand jury has decided not to indict two men accused of hanging an effigy of President Barack Obama from a tree last year on the campus of the University of Kentucky. 

From the Herald-Leader – 

The grand jury dismissed charges of second-degree burglary, theft by unlawful taking and disorderly conduct against Hunter Bush, 21, and Joe Fischer, 22, a UK senior, lawyer Fred Peters said Tuesday.

The pair was arrested in late October and told police it was a prank in response to reports that an effigy of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was hung from a home in California.

The incident prompted a strong response from many elected officials in the state.

EDC to announce new loan program for downtown

The Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. will announce plans for a loan program to promote investment in downtown Owensboro this morning. 

EDC Chairman Darrell Higginbotham, who is Daviess County president of Independence Bank, will provide details about the new Downtown Owensboro Revitalization Loan Program at a 9 a.m. CST press conference at the EDC offices at 200 E. Third St. in Owensboro. 

Officials said Monday they anticipate private investment to be at least twice as much as the $79 million investment proposed by the city of Owensboro and Daviess Fiscal Court. 

“If we invested $80 million, if we didn’t get $200 million (in private) investment, that would surprise me very much,” said Fred Reeves, downtown development director, told the Messenger-Inquirer on Monday.

The loan program will begin with a capitalization of $2.5 million by “trustee-level investor banks” that are members of EDC and plan to invest “.00005 percent of their deposit share to promote the work of economic development in Greater Owensboro,” according to the EDC.

“Trading cards” from last Bunning-Mongiardo matchup

The Rothenberg Political Report has a set of “trading cards” on display today from the 2004 U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Jim Bunning and Democrat Daniel Mongiardo produced by Mongiardo’s campaign. 

The set of nine “beanball cards” peg Mongiardo as  a “relief pitcher” while calling Bunning, a baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, a “special interest designated hitter” and “budget buster record breaker,” among other things. 

Given the announcement by Mongiardo, now lieutenant governor, on Monday that he’ll be gunning for Bunning’s seat again next year, we’ll see what other creative campaign fodder makes its way onto the trail. 

Bunning told reporters during a conference call this morning that he will definitely be seeking a third term next year and responded to comments by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell made at the National Press Club last week. 

McConnell “had a lapse of memory when he was speaking to the press club last week when he said he didn’t know what my intentions were,” Bunning told the Herald-Leader. “Whatever Mitch says is whatever he says. He’s the leader of the pack and he can say whatever he wants and get away with it.”