Earlier this week, the Lexington Herald-Leader printed an editorial in support of a permanent fund for the coal severance tax titled “Raise coal tax, spend it better.” You’ll definitely want to click that link to read the whole article, but here are some of the highlights:
The legislature put into law some reasonable expectations for local severance tax spending. But the legislature routinely exempts itself from its own laws. In the current state budget, lawmakers approved 792 exemptions allowing them to make individual severance tax appropriations, many of dubious value. This spending nibbles up the money while bearing no resemblance to a coherent economic strategy….When the legislature began sending half of the severance tax back to coal communities, the goal was to spur economic development and work-force training that would relieve the dependency on a single industry. Sadly, it hasn’t worked out that way. Coal production declines and layoffs — which had been predicted — are having devastating effects….
Still, the whole state has an interest in Eastern Kentucky doing better. The only way to make a case for sending more money to the mountains is by tying it to a credible regional strategy, one with measurable goals and rigorous accountability, that would be administered transparently and nonpolitically.Lawmakers from Eastern Kentucky hold the top posts in both chambers, so lack of political clout is not the region’s problem.What’s missing is a plan.