Politicians offer a lot of concern, some ideas as problems in Eastern Kentucky take center stage

12/08/2013 07:43 PM

When Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo were asked a forum last month about the top issues for the 2014 General Assembly, Stumbo and Stivers said doing something to help Eastern Kentucky came right after passing the state’s budget.

The challenge will be coming up with strategies to help the region, which has always struggled with poverty and is facing more problems with the sharp decline in the coal industry there.

That’s why Republican Congressman Hal Rogers and Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear have called officials, activists and community leaders to Pikeville Monday for a conference, called the Shaping Our Appalachian Region summit. The all-day conference is expected to highlight some of the problems and outline potential paths for the region.

Pure Politics has compiled interviews and answers from elected officials over the last several weeks about what needs to do be done in and for Eastern Kentucky, starting with Stumbo’s answer from that legislative panel about why he sees it as such a critical issue in the 2014 session.

Expanding scholarships is one way to help

Stumbo told Pure Politics in an interview last month that one state initiative that could help is expanding the pilot program to use coal severance tax money to help send to college students from coal producing counties.

“You’re looking at diversifying the economy. You have to have an educated workforce,” he said (3:30 of the interview below).

It’s a scaled back version of Stumbo’s original proposal from 2011 to use coal severance tax money over 10 years to make the University of Pikeville a public university.

“We will ever be as well off as we would had we had a public four-year university? The answer’s no. We missed the boat as a state by not trying to secure UPike as a state-funded public university,” Stumbo said. “I’ve not given up on it. I’m just putting it on the back burner right now.”

Find out why and what else Stumbo wants to see done with coal severance tax money, as well as the future of the coal industry (5:00 of the interview segment):

It’s not just Eastern Kentucky’s problem

State Sen. Robin Webb, a Grayson Democrat who is a former coal miner, said the downturn in the coal industry has a ripple effect outside of the coal producing counties, including the northeast region that she represents in the state Senate.

“There’s got to be other avenues to keep our people that want to stay in Eastern Kentucky,” Webb said. “…It’s urgent. We’re in a state of crisis.”

Here’s the interview:

Give ‘economic freedom’

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul also deflected a question about diversifying the economy by bashing the federal government over regulations. But he did put in a plug for his proposal, called “Economic Freedom Zones,” in which counties with higher unemployment would get federal tax cuts.


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