Governor Ernie Fletcher’s Communication Office
Op-Ed: Time to Return Kentucky's Coal Severance Program Back to Local Control
By Ernie Fletcher
Governor of Kentucky
May 8, 2006
November 7 marks the largest election in state history when millions of Kentuckians head to the polls to cast their votes for candidates they believe will best represent them and their communities.
These elected individuals are people you meet at the grocery store, church or your neighborhood school. You call them to fix your street or broken water-main. They are the first on the scene when a natural disaster strikes. You have entrusted them with the responsibility of ensuring your community has the resources necessary to sustain itself.
For this reason, I made the critical budgetary decision to reinstate the original intent of the Kentucky Coal Severance program. As some have clearly forgotten, the coal severance program was intended to enable local leaders at the county level to apply for grant funds needed to complete projects in their counties.
However, in the past eight years, legislators felt the need to suspend the law and put the authority in their own hands. Through the use of line-items many have unilaterally determined what projects are needed at the local level, bypassing the grant application process already in place.
It is important to understand that my administration is not creating a new application process for the way in which coal counties fund projects through coal severance. Rather we are returning to the statutory process for the appropriation and use of coal severance dollars as the program was created in 1992.
Also, not one dollar has been taken from single-county coal severance funds. The total amount to be disbursed remains at $101 million for the 2006-2008 fiscal period. Each and every county will receive its entire budgeted amount, contrary to what some people have said.
In some cases, legislators and local officials have worked hand-in-hand to establish priorities for their respective counties through line-items. However, too often I hear local officials express concern that line-items are being assigned to their counties as projects of pork rather than projects of need. This is contrary to the intent of the law, KRS 42.4592, which establishes the fiscal court as the decision-making body regarding coal severance funds.
As it is the statutory responsibility of the county leadership to assess the need for projects in their communities, likewise, it is the statutory responsibility of the state to ensure that these taxpayer dollars are spent in the most effective and fiscally sound manner.
To ensure that this occurs, there are a variety of factors that come in to play when assessing grant projects. Some of the major components in determining project viability include:
1) A solid funding package with the ability to fully fund the project,
2) A timeline that establishes the project can be completed within a reasonable amount of time, and
3) Community support for the project.
In the upcoming weeks, I will meet with officials from Kentucky’s 39 eligible coal counties to review the coal severance application process. In addition, staff from the Governor’s Office for Local Development, the state agency which administers these funds, will be conducting grant application training throughout the month of June. As counties begin to assess their local needs, I encourage the collaboration of county and city governments as well as special districts, local organizations and residents.
When I took office as Governor of Kentucky, I made a commitment to ensure tax dollars would be spent wisely. By returning the authority of project recommendations to the local level, the most influential voices will come from those who not only understand their citizens’ vision for the community but shape that vision for future generations.