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JANUARY 15, 2016

Term limits for legislators plus transparency of their fat pension plans

Some lawmakers will get six figure retirements for part time jobs

Al CrossFRANKFORT, Ky. – Brent Yonts has dozens of plaid sportcoats. Most are pretty sharp; others not so much. The state representative from Greenville has adopted the motif as his sartorial trademark, and it’s a fixture in the General Assembly.

Yonts is stuck in a fashion rut, and so are too many of his Democratic colleagues in the state House, by opposing legislation to make public the payments legislators will get from their generous pension system.

That idea has gotten more traction lately, because the sorry condition of the state’s other pension funds is the overarching issue of the legislative session. A committee of the Republican-controlled Senate approved a pension-transparency bill Wednesday, but in response Yonts sang the same old tune:

If you’re in public office or if you’re a public employee, then what you’re currently earning as salary should be public information, and it is,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Once you’ve retired, though, what you draw from retirement benefits is nobody else’s business.”

Brent Yonts


No. The spending of any public dollar is public business. And seeing just how great the pensions are would more clearly illustrate the effect they have on legislative behavior. In 36 years of following the General Assembly, I’ve become convinced that too many legislators are too interested in staying in office rather than doing the public’s business.

In 1980, the same year legislators secured their independence from governors, they created a pension system that they have since made overly generous – an attractive nuisance, a legal term for something that causes harm through its appeal. The latest example of their self-generosity was a law allowing legislators to greatly increase their pensions by taking jobs in other branches of government. That can produce a six-figure pension based mainly on part-time service.

“The legislative enhancer is really what’s going to blow people’s minds,” said state Rep. James Kay, a Versailles Democrat who says he supports pension transparency and another good idea, giving legislators the same pension rules as those for regular state employees.

“It would probably be better funded in the future if all legislators were in it,” Kay said, noting that the regular-employee system has only 17 percent of the money needed to pay current members. The legislative pension fund, which is very small, relatively speaking, is 85 percent funded.

Kay said he doesn’t expect the House to pass Sen. Chris McDaniel’s transparency measure, Senate Bill 45, because members don’t want their pensions revealed. He’s been in the legislature less than three years, but he knows it well; his mother has worked there 20 years, and he was legal counsel to House Speaker Greg Stumbo in the 2013 session.

Despite that background, on Friday Kay filed a bill to impose term limits on legislators – and is working on another that could take away from them the power to draw their own districts and give it to an independent commission.

Such legislation has gone nowhere in the past, and has usually been sponsored by Republicans. Now, House Democrats may lose control of the chamber and there is a strong anti-government feeling in the land, heightened by partisanship in Washington and the successful appeals of populist presidential candidates in both parties.

Kay says that’s not why he’s pushing term limits and redistricting reform, but he acknowledged that in the current political environment it would be good politics for Democrats to embrace long-needed changes.

“The people want it, because people want reform,” he said of term limits. “I’ve seen how entrenched incumbents serve special interests and self-interest rather than the interests of the people.”

Kay’s House Bill 264 would limit House members to 12 consecutive years of service (six of their two-year terms) and senators to 16 consecutive years (four of their four-year terms). It would require a constitutional amendment, which needs a 60 percent vote in each chamber and approval by a majority of voters in a statewide referendum this fall. It would take effect in 2018.

Kay argues, “The power of incumbency is pretty much unbroken, and I think we’ll have more opportunity to get things done when you have outgoing senators and representatives who can vote their conscience more often.”

Correct. During most of the decades I’ve watched the legislature professionally, I’ve thought term limits were a bad idea, because I saw how public-spirited, long-tenured legislators gained knowledge, influence and power that they often put to good use, leading their colleagues to cast politically difficult votes.

But that didn’t happen often enough, and now that pensions are so lucrative, and legislative elections so expensive, funded largely by lobbying interests, it’s time to stop this merry-go-round. The most compelling reason is tax reform, which the state has needed for 30 years but would require overcoming intense lobbying by powerful interests that want to keep billions in tax breaks.

House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover says most of his caucus would support term limits. Kay said the five House Democratic leaders “gave me the go-ahead” to introduce the bill. “They obviously don’t dictate what I do,” he said. “Some of them thought it was a good idea and others didn’t have a comment.”

Senate President Robert Stivers probably reflects the prevailing view: “There is something to be said for institutional knowledge,” he said, and voters “have the ability to limit out terms.” But Kay says, “An incumbent can get too entrenched, in my opinion, extremely entrenched, and we get the same results over and over.” And those results haven’t been good enough.

 

JANUARY 14, 2016

Harold E. Slone Mayor

City of Louisa

215 N Main Cross St

Louisa, Kentucky 41230

606-638-4050

STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS

Kathryn Compton City Clerk

I am honored to stand before you at a time when Louisa is Beginning to ReDiscover itself. A year ago, I made a commitment to the people of this city to listen, to learn, to lead. That’s what I do, every day, as I make decisions and take actions that move us forward.

My job as Mayor is not just to govern for the year or the moment, but to mark the way forward, and build for decades to come.

We stand at the beginning of a new chapter and folks Louisa is ON THE MOVE.

I have spent much of my year building and renewing partnerships that will enable a successful future. Partnerships with the tourism commission , the county, the board of education, transportation cabinet, and civic clubs like rotary and others. These partnerships are paving a way for progress unlike we’ve seen in recent times.

Tonight, I will highlight a number of challenges, reforms, success stories, and next steps as we continue to Rediscover Louisa.

As you remember our town was hit with two major snowstorms in the first 60 days of my term. Accumulation forecast of 15-20” of snow was unlike what we had experienced in decades. Our city was simply not equipped or prepared for such weather. With one residential type snow plow, on one undersized pickup truck and salt spreader that holds a wheelbarrow load of salt it was very challenging times to say the least. Last week our city was delivered two sets of snow removal equipment, blades and spreaders adequate to do the job you deserve should this happen again. As I learned in emergency management you must prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I can proudly announce we are now prepared for this type event.

 

As spring arrived I quickly realized the city pool which had provided many years of service and was once a valuable asset to our community had become more of a liability and symbol of neglect.

A decision needed to be made whether we would invest and revitalize this nostalgic location or do as many other small cities and completely close it for good. Considering our youth doesn’t have a lot of summer activities and childhood obesity in our region is a serious problem we moved full steam ahead to utilize all resources and “Rediscover Louisa Pool”. A complete overhaul to the pool house, including new bathroom fixtures, concession stand and eating area, new ceilings and electric in the shelter, highlighted by a new gazebo on the roof for teens resulted in a huge success. The pool revenue increased over 900 % totaling more that 37,000 dollars this season which enabled us to finish the season with pools first ever safety cover for the winter which will save thousands each spring. This was accomplished without raising the prices to the children using the pool one cent.

The Lock Ave park and locks area was cleared of years of overgrowth and debris returning it to a condition from decades back and setting the stage for many exciting upgrades to come.

 

We was able to obtain grant funding to get professional conceptual drawings and plans for a future riverwalk project. This plan would tie together the resources we already have beginning at the boat launch area behind the courthouse and ending at the historic locks and dam site behind the park. This plan has prompted collaboration with other cities up the river to market our river as a whole for fishing , kayaking, canoeing and paving the way for potential trail town status by the State of Kentucky.

This project was also kicked off with Louisa’s first beautiful mural next to the boat ramp area which was accomplished by a grant and a partnership between city and county officials and was led by Catrina Vargo with the county.

As the warmer weather finally arose the impact of the harsh winter and previous financial struggles from the prior administration had left the cities streets and roads in desperate conditions. The street supervisor stated the streets were the worst he had seen in the 14 years he had been here. By utilizing the bidding commitments and buying power through the county, the city contracted Mountain Enterprises , the largest provider of asphalt in the region to completely repave 6 city streets totaling approximately 110,000 dollars. This was more asphalt than had been laid in the city in the prior 15 years total.

By forming teamwork with all the city departments we were also able to patch over 140 potholes putting down 70 ton of asphalt by hand into these holes. Let me say, I am proud of the job the city workers have done. I asked them to do things they were not used to doing and they stepped up to the plate and delivered.

I have asked these workers to be more accountable for overtime hours and we have reduced overtime wages across the city by more than 22%.

As mayor I pledge to always maintain and improve public protection and that has been accomplished. Our police department responded to 3790 calls during 2015 and one highlight was 63 drug arrest for an average of more than one a week. The police department has added a K9 unit to help with detection of illegal drugs in an effort to keep drugs off our streets.

By working together with the fire district board the city was able to purchase a much newer and larger ladder truck for the fire department which is completely paid for. We implemented a new plan which allowed a part time fire department employee to locate, test and map over 200 fire hydrants in the departments coverage area. We have repaired several hydrants here in the city that had been out of order for quite some time. These things along with a group of dedicated and trained volunteers enabled us to lower our ISO rating from 5 to 4 in the city and 7 to 4 5 mi outside the city. There is only 6,200 fire departments nationwide with the number 4 rating. The fire department responded to over 250 calls for help last year.

Our water and sewer department treated over 550 million gallons of water last year providing water to nearly 3000 customers and 18OO sanitary sewer customers and those numbers continue to grow.

Our sanitation department pick up trash from nearly 1400 residents and business’s each week hauling more than 3000 tons of garbage to the landfill each year.

Because of growth in the city’s tax assessment we were able to lower your tax rate. For a person with a 100,000 home we are providing all these city services for less that 20.00 per month which i believe is a bargain.

However, our work has just begun we continue to face many challenges. Our declining downtown area needs to be kick started with revitalization plans. We simply aren’t realizing downtown growth. Thats why I have proposed a plan called “operation bootstrap” which would assist entrepreneur’s in starting small specialty business’s in our downtown. We have applied for grant funding through the SOAR initiative and anxiously waiting to get started should that funding become a reality.

We must continue to invest in our parks and provide new opportunities for recreational activities in the city. Thats why we have made plans for upgrades to the much used basketball courts and playground equipment to increase physical activity for our youth. Our Main street park stage will receive upgrades that will allow for a regular schedule of performing arts through out the summer be a place people will truly want to visit.

We face major challenges with our wastewater treatment facility. We are currently near capacity at all times and over capacity during any wet weather event. This can only be remedied by doing major upgrades to downtown areas that are allowing rainwater to enter the system due to age and condition of the sanitary sewer and storm drains.

We are currently working on a plan to reduce this infiltration and early estimates are 4 million dollars to accomplish. Our waste water treatment facility is very old and simply needs to be replaced. These are gonna be major challenges in the years ahead but we simply cannot continue to overlook them if we are to grow and be the city you want and deserve.

One key component of success is communication and this is something I have tried to improve this year by doing things like this tonight. We are also launching a new website for the city which will be a portal of information for visitors and residents alike. The foundation of the site is in place and ready to be built upon in the coming year.

The great work that is happening in Louisa is a testament to our ability to work together for the common good and I've enjoyed your strong partnership during my tenure as mayor.

I still believe in government and believe good decisions bring good results.

The state of our city is SOUND . We are resilient , disciplined and working together to make our city even stronger.

I’m honored and humbled to be your mayor and look forward to the future of our city. 

JANUARY 11, 2016

American's Retirement - Save a little 


By Glenn Mollette

Most Americans rely heavily on Social Security, but it's not enough to retire on. There are numerous stories and statistics about worrisome Americans and retirement. The average American is not saving enough for retirement. Millions who are in low wage jobs are barely able to survive. There is simply not enough income in many instances to even cover life's necessities. You can't save money when you are barely making it. However, there are also plenty of stories of Americans who simply will not try to save any money.

I am amazed at what even saving a small amount will do. Even if you can put just a few dollars aside every month the amount will grow at least some. Here is a case in point. About 40 years ago I was a teenage preacher boy. Liberty Baptist Church outside of Paintsville, Kentucky hired me to be their pastor. I know that's hard to believe, but true. Harold Rice was the only deacon in the church and was a very kind and wise man. The church paid me $60 a month but Mr. Rice insisted that my salary package included the church paying $6 a month into a retirement fund administered by the church's denomination. I could not have cared less about retirement. I was seventeen. The salary arrangement probably lasted about 18 months because I moved on to attend college. This means the church might have paid into the fund about $108.00. I actually never thought anything about it except reflectively. I was always appreciative of Mr. Rice and the church.

For some reason last week I researched the status of that little fund and was shocked. I learned that those handfuls of $6 contributions had grown and would pay our family about $250 or more a month at age 65. I couldn't believe it.

$250 a month could pay for a trip to the grocery store or buy a couple of tanks of gasoline. Who knows? However one thing I know is that over twenty years those small $6 contributions could pay out about $60,000 or more of retirement income.

We need to keep trying to save a few dollars whenever we can. Pay into a 401k or put some into an IRA. Do something. Try to put some into a bank account just to have in case you need it. Also, don't feel too bad about all those Social Security taxes you pay. One husband and wife I know collect over $6000 a month in Social Security pay. Plus they had extensive medical treatments performed a couple of years ago that cost Medicare over $400,000.00. The average American could never pay that kind of medical bill.

Start as young as you can but even seniors can save. Put a little money aside and don't touch it. Your money will grow. Sometimes, even when it's only $6 a month.


Glenn Mollette is an American Syndicated Columnist and Author. He is the author of eleven books and read in all fifty states.  This column does not necessarily reflect the view of any organization, institution or this paper or media source.

JANUARY 12, 2016

KY. IS IMPORTING CHEAPER COAL FROM OTHER STATES

(Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet graphic)

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), an outspoken critic of President Obama's Clean Power Plan rules to require a one-third reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, has invited fourth general coal miner, Howard Abshire, an Eastern Kentucky resident, as his guest for tonight's State of the Union address. Abshire, who lost his job to a mine closure, is temporarily employed removing mining equipment from closed mines.

McConnell said in a statement: “I am honored that Howard accepted my invitation to attend the President’s final State of the Union Address, and I am glad to welcome him and his wife, Wray Lyn, to the U.S. Capitol. Howard, who was a proud Kentucky coal miner, represents the hard-working lifestyle of many people in Eastern Kentucky. He has spent most of his life working in underground mines to help power our nation; however, the President’s War on Coal has devastated coal country and unfortunately contributed to the loss of thousands of jobs in Kentucky, one of which was Howard’s.” 

The Clean Power Plan and President Obama shouldn't bare the full brunt of Central Appalachian's coal woes, said Kenneth Troske, Sturgill Professor of Economics at the University of Kentucky,

Curtis Tate reports for McClatchy Newspapers. Troske told him, “Most of what’s going on is being driven by basic economics. Is government regulation a factor? It’s not the primary factor that’s driving it.” For example, Central Appalachian coal last month was selling for $43.50 a ton, compared to $32.60 in Western Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Numbers like that led Kentucky, the nation's third leading coal producer, to import 39 percent of its coal from other states in 2015, Tate writes. While 90 percent of the state's electricity is powered by coal, "the percentage of Eastern Kentucky coal that fires the state’s power plants has plunged from 32 percent in 1983 to 4 percent in 2015."

Coal in the Eastern Kentucky mountains, which is lower in sulfur dioxide, is more expensive to mine and transport, Tate writes. "Much of the remaining coal in Eastern Kentucky has to be trucked to rail or barge loading facilities, adding to the cost. Power plants that have installed scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide can burn less expensive higher-sulfur coal mined in Western Kentucky or other state. Even though that coal has to be transported farther to plants by rail or barge, it’s still less expensive than the coal that’s mined in Eastern Kentucky."

Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 1/12/2016 01:43:00 PM

JANUARY 8, 2016

 

COLUMN

SENATE WEEK IN REVIEW

Submitted By Ray S. Jones II

FRANKFORT — I was honored Thursday evening to join Kentucky’s new Governor, Matt Bevin, and other state legislative leaders at an activity that has become a tradition for the opening week of the Legislative Session -- the 21st Annual Kentucky Chamber Day. The event attracted 1,500 business leaders and officials from across the Commonwealth who came to hear opinions on some of the top issues from our legislative leaders and the Governor.

I spoke on several issues that I believe are important to eastern Kentucky and the Commonwealth – one of those was the importance of coal and the coal severance tax revenue. We cannot power this country without Kentucky’s coal and the coal severance tax needs to come back to our coal-producing counties. I have filed legislation, Senate Bill 21 that directs that 100 percent of the coal severance tax return to the coal-producing counties.

Of course, the most important task of legislators this session – and the topic on everyone’s mind Thursday night – was a balanced two-year budget. As a member of Senate leadership, I have a seat at the table during this process and will continue to work to bring money back home to my district as well as to ensure that we have necessary funds for education, public safety, roads and our most vulnerable citizens.

The vetting of expenditures and revenue avenues makes this a time-consuming process. Even though discussions are underway, the first step is to hear the Governor’s proposal, which will be announced January 26 at a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives. That will be followed later by the House’s budget proposal. The Senate will review what the House suggests and will then write its on budget. The final days of session will focus on ironing out the differences in the plans.

I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise that everyone in Frankfort has their own ideas about how to spend – and save – the state’s money. While the budget bill can sometimes produce impassioned, heated, and lengthy debates, lawmakers are responsible for coming to an agreement in the end. The state constitution requires that we make sure the state’s budget is balanced before the last gavel falls.

As the state continues to claw its way out of the recession, the recent budget reports offer some promising numbers. The current forecast is that there will be between $250 million to $300 million in new revenue. State budget officials attribute much of the growth to higher-than-expected receipts from personal income and business taxes as well as Kentucky’s sales tax. However, let it be noted that at the Chamber Day, the Governor said that various state agencies have requested up to an additional $2.1 billion over the next two years. He says the agencies are not going to get it. We will know more about his intent when he releases his plan.

One of the biggest challenges will be addressing the shortfall in the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. It will need an additional $520.4 million in state contributions to be fully funded next fiscal year. That’s in addition to around $380 million paid out to the system from the state general fund this fiscal year.

While the budget will be our priority, there will be other issues we will be asked to legislate. The bills will cover everything from expanding voting rights for felons, strengthening Kentucky’s castle doctrine, strengthening the drunken driving law, changing the process of issuing marriage licenses, changing Kentucky’s election cycle, regulating drones, creating a sales tax holiday for school supplies and clothes, and protecting children from sex offenders.

During the opening week, I filed legislation to protect our Second Amendment rights. Senate Joint Resolution 36 urges the Governor of Virginia and the Virginia Attorney General to restore reciprocal recognition of concealed carry weapons licenses from Kentucky. This legislation is in response to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s recent decision to cease recognition of concealed deadly weapon licenses from Kentucky and 24 other states.  I was glad to have over half of the Senate members – both democrats and republicans – sign on as co-sponsors to this resolution.  

As we review the various bills that come before us, it is always important to remember those who make it possible for us to have the freedom to debate these issues. This week, I filed legislation honoring some of eastern Kentucky’s fallen Vietnam heroes. As the son of a Vietnam combat veteran, I understand the sacrifice of our service men and women.

As we move through the session, I need you to play your role in our representative democracy. I welcome your input as we consider legislation that affects issues important to you. You can leave a message for me by calling the toll-free message line at (800) 372-7181. Citizens with hearing impairments may leave messages for lawmakers at the TTY message line at (808) 896-0305. You can also e-mail me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.