Consensus on road plan likely not to come until next week

Despite earlier optimism that an agreed-upon road plan would be completed by the end of this week, work will continue over the weekend by House and Senate leaders to try to iron out a compromise. 

“We have no agreement at this particular juncture,” Senate President David Williams said Friday morning during a press conference with House Speaker Greg Stumbo. “We’re far away from having any kind of document ready.”

Legislative leaders have been working on the road plan that will direct spending of state and federal transportation dollars including the $421 million Kentucky expects to receive under the federal economic stimulus package. 

The House leadership delivered a draft of the plan to the Senate on Monday, and Senate leaders have been delving into the details since. Williams, a Burkesville Republican, had said Tuesday that he expected a compromise to be reached within 48 hours. 

“It takes a lot of time to understand the nature of this huge and complex problem,” Stumbo said about the work on the plan.

Being discussed at the same time as the road plan is whether the legislature should act to freeze the state’s current gas tax rate, which is tied to the wholesale price of gas. 

The rate is currently scheduled to drop by four cents on April 1 because of declining gas prices, but legislative leaders are considering freezing the tax at its current rate to retain road  dollars. 

Each of those pennies equals about $32 million over the next year in road dollars to the state, and Williams noted that city and county governments also share in that revenue for local road maintenance. 

The state is facing a deficit of at least $100 million this year in its road fund based largely on a drop in revenue from vehicle sales and use taxes, so the reduction of the gas tax would have an even greater impact on road construction, Williams said. 

“I think that we’re going to have to take some steps to freeze those pennies or it’s going to be catastrophic for the state road plan,” Williams said.

NKY makes pitch for federal, toll-free bridge funding

Members of northern Kentucky’s Congressional delegation and local officials are in Washington this week to lobby for federal funding to replace the Brent Spence Bridge. 

While Congress works on a transportation spending bill, those involved in the lobbying effort are hoping to secure between $500 million and $800 million of the $3 billion required to build the bridge, according an article today by Pat Crowley with the Kentucky Enquirer. 

A proposal to create a statewide transportation infrastructure authority to be able to borrow money to pay for the state’s mega-projects has me resistance in northern Kentucky. The main objection has been because those loans would presumably be repaid by tolls levied on the projects funded by the authority. 

Tolls have not been as large an issue in other areas of the state affected by these megaprojects, including in western Kentucky where officials are pushing for the creation of the authority to fund the construction of Interstate 69 through the state including an Ohio River  bridge at Henderson.

Deputy cabinet secretary placed on leave following EPO

Steve Nunn, a former state legislator, deputy state cabinet secretary and son of former Gov. Louie Nunn, has been placed on leave after an emergency protective order was filed against him alleging he struck a woman. 

Reporter Ronnie Ellis with CNHI has the story about Nunn, who ran for governor in 2003, left the legislature in 2006 and has been serving as acting Commissioner of Mental Health and Mental Retardation for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. 

Nunn is accused by 29-year-old Amanda Ross of Lexington of striking her while they watched a recent University of Kentucky basketball game. 

From Ellis’s story – 

She indicated Nunn was at her house watching a basketball game when he “became combative, hit me four times in my face, broke a lamp, and scratched the hallway wall.” The summons also indicates Nunn was verbally abusive.

Nunn was placed on administrative leave after Ross filed the EPO. Nunn is formerly of Glasgow near Bowling Green, but his address on the EPO is listed as Midway.

Nunn is scheduled to appear in court on the order on March 4.

Payday lending bill clears committee, critics say bill doesn’t go far enough

A proposed system to help keep people from accumulating too much debt through payday loans cleared a House committee on Wednesday, but has predatory lending opponents saying the measure doesn’t go far enough.

 House Bill 444 is a revised and stripped-down version of House Bill 500 offered during last year’s session by Rep. Johnny Bell, a Glasgow Democrat, that seeks only to create a database tracking payday loans. 

“We think this is the wrong approach,” said Anne Marie Regan, a member of the Kentucky Coalition for Responsible Lending, said after the bill was approved by the House Banking and Insurance Committee. “We haven’t addressed the cost (of the loans).”

Payday loans, also called deferred deposit loans, are short-term loans of up to $500 that are typically required to be repaid in two weeks. Payday lenders generally require customers to leave a check for the loan amount plus a fee of up to $15 per $100 of the loan that will be cashed after the two week period. 

State law limits the number of payday loans a person can have at one time to two for a total of $500, but there currently is no way to track customers who might have loans with different businesses. Continue reading

Notes from the House floor

Just a couple of funny happenings on the House floor during the orders of the day today – 

  • Rep. Reggie Meeks, a Louisville Democrat, introduced his House Bill 160 today by saying it was “recycled” from last year’s bill that outlined proposed to changes in state law governing reporting recycling initiatives in state government. The line prompted more than a few good-natured boos from his fellow lawmakers who didn’t appreciate the blatant pun. 
  • House Speaker Greg Stumbo took some gentle ribbing from Rep. Mike Denham, a Maysville Democrat, about a recent report regarding a horse owned by Stumbo until recently. The Herald-Leader recently reported that Stumbo had failed to report on his ethics disclosure form that he was a part owner of a racehorse and was pushing a bill to put video lottery terminals at racetracks that could benefit horse owners.  So when Rep. Dwight Butler presented House Bill 418 dealing with stray equines, Denham asked “Will this bill help the chair (Stumbo) dispose of his horses in the future?” The quip prompted a smile from Stumbo and laughter from the chamber. 

Beshear releases general plan for use of federal stimulus dollars

Gov.  Steve Beshear released a general overview of how Kentucky will use the estimated $3 billion the state expects to receive under the federal economic stimulus package. 

Beshear released the breakdown following a press conference this afternoon with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson about the plan. 

The governor plans to create a state Web site to track the spending similar to what is proposed on the federal level for the stimulus package. 

“These are tax dollars and public deserves to know how their money is being spent,” Beshear said in a statement.

The initiative Beshear is calling “Kentucky at Work” includes – 

  • Medicaid: Kentucky’s Medicaid program will receive about $990 million over the next two years. The program currently faces a $232 million deficit this year, while demand for services is increasing by about 3,000 people a month due to the economy.
  • Health and welfare: Kentucky will receive about $272 million for areas like public housing, weatherization, child care, child support enforcement and homelessness prevention.
  • Education: Kentucky will receive about $924 million in stimulus money. Approximately $535 million will be used to preserve existing commitments to K-12 and higher education, as well as to continue efforts to hold down the cost of tuition. The remaining $389 million, administered through the Kentucky Department of Education, will go to Title 1, Head Start, technology and school lunch programs and other programs that help families in crisis.
  • General Fund: Kentucky will receive nearly $120 million to help address critical shortfalls in priority areas and mitigate against even deeper cuts over the next two fiscal years.
  • Job training and public safety: The commonwealth will receive $66 million in job training and workforce development dollars. In the area of public safety, Kentucky will receive about $30 million to combat violence against women and to support criminal justice efforts at both the state and local levels.
  • Roads and Bridges: Kentucky will receive $421 million for highways and bridges. Gov. Beshear and legislative leaders have been working together on a road plan that contains projects that meet the federal government’s requirement that 50 percent of those funds be obligated within 120 days. Projects must be shovel-ready.
  • Transit: About $50 million will be allocated for transit.
  • Water and Sewer lines: Kentucky will receive about $71 million for water and sewer infrastructure.
  • Community Development: The state will be allocated some $12 million for local community development block grants.
  • Energy Projects: About $63 million will be allocated to Kentucky for energy initiatives.

Bill targeting “ambulance chasers” passes committee

A bill that would prohibit chiropractors and other businesses in “the healing arts” from soliciting those involved in accidents for 30 days after the accident was passed without opposition by the House Banking and Insurance Committee this morning. 

House Bill 412 mirrors a law already on the books that prohibits attorneys from soliciting business from someone involved in an accident, disaster or issued a citation for at least 30 days after the event. 

Rep. Jim Gooch, a Providence Democrat who sponsored the bill, showed committee members a report by WHAS-11 in Louisville that looked at chiropractic and other medical service businesses that aggressively targeted customers who had been injured in an accident directly following the accident. 

“It’s unfortunate that a bill like this has to be brought forth,” Gooch said. 

Several committee members said this should be first step in broader restrictions regarding such solicitations. 

Rep. Arnold Simpson, a Covington Democrat and attorney, voted for the bill, but took issue with some broad characterizations of attorneys and those in the medical field as “ambulance chasers.”

“There are hundreds if not thousands of chiropractors who work diligently in the pursuit of their trade without crossing any lines,” Simpson said. 

Read more about House Bill 412 in Thursday’s Messenger-Inquirer.

Full text of President Obama’s address to Congress

Here’s the text of President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, courtesy of the White House press office

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here. 

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others.  And rightly so.  If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family.  You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day.  It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights.  It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope.  The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.    

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. Continue reading

Beshear to talk about stimulus plan today in Louisville

Gov. Steve Beshear will be talking more today about Kentucky’s share of the recently passed federal economic stimulus package at a press conference with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson

The press conference follows Beshear’s trip to Washington D.C. this past weekend for the National Governors Association winter conference that included meetings with President Barack Obama. 

Some details about what Kentucky can expect to see from the funding package have already come out, including an anticipated $421 million for the construction of roads and bridges. Lawmakers are currently working on the state’s road plan that will include designations of how that money should be spent. 

Obama told governors this week that their states could begin seeing money to help offset Medicaid costs as soon as today, which could amount to as much as $1 billion over the next two years, according to James Carroll with the Courier-Journal.

The state is also looking for relief in the area of unemployment benefits, and Beshear told reporters Tuesday that he hopes to see an extension of the benefits period and a $25-increase in the weekly cap on benefits, all paid for with federal dollars. 

Look for more information about the stimulus package at the 2 p.m. EST press conference in Louisville’s Metro Hall.

Reactions to Obama’s address

Here are a couple of official statements from Kentucky’s elected officials following President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.

From U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell

“Tonight Kentuckians and all Americans were proud eyewitnesses to history as an African-American president addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time.

“Over the years, there have been many important markers in our nation’s long journey toward racial equality. Few have been as compelling as seeing President Obama in the Speaker’s rostrum tonight.

“The President’s message was important and timely: America faces great challenges in the months and years ahead, and I was heartened to hear of his commitment to the millions who are struggling to hold onto homes and jobs and who are worried about what the future holds for themselves and their children.

“As we work to address all these concerns, we will have our differences. Republicans believe the road back to prosperity is paved with greater personal freedom, not bigger government, and that in this moment of economic hardship, we should be more vigilant about spending taxpayer dollars, not less.

“But one thing is clear: working through the current troubles will require a shared commitment as we address America’s challenges ahead.”

From U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning – 

“Our nation is facing many difficult challenges right now and I want to work with our new President to meet them head on.  Many Americans are suffering due to the current financial crisis and we need to work together to find commonsense solutions that will help get our economy back on track.  

“If we really want to stimulate the economy we need to enact policies that will have a direct and immediate impact.  I believe the best way to do this is by focusing our attention on targeted tax relief that will allow Americans to keep more of what they earn.  By empowering American families and small businesses we can create new jobs and grow the economy. 

“We also need to get serious about fiscal responsibility.  We can’t spend our way out of this crisis.  Piling debt on top of debt is not the answer.  If we don’t stop out-of-control government spending now it will only lead to larger economic problems down the road and leave a tab that our children and grandchildren will be paying for years to come.”

From U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, KY-2 – 

“President Obama’s address tonight was a historic moment for our nation.  He made it clear that our nation is facing difficult challenges.  I agree that we can overcome these challenges by working together to strengthen the economy, create jobs, and restore the financial security Americans want and deserve. 

 “I look forward to working with President Obama.  However, I assure you that where I disagree with the President I will not compromise my principles.  Empowering Kentucky families and small businesses by letting them keep more of what they earn, not by expanding the government through higher taxes and uncontrollable spending, is the best way to promote jobs and recover economic growth.

 “I am confident that the American people will show the same resilience and integrity in this crisis as they have before, and because of these strong resources, I am confident America’s economic future is prosperous.”