Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 31, 2013

Year of progress

Some 'hopes' were realized


The Independent

ASHLAND — As we have done each Jan. 1 for more than 30 years, The Independent’s editorial board began 2013 by listing five broad “hopes” of things we would like to see accomplished during the year. As the year comes to an end, there has been definite progress on four of those five hopes, which makes the year that ends at midnight much better in achieving our hopes than most years in which we have been doing this.

Here is a quick review of those “hopes” we listed back on Jan. 1:

--As the year began, plans for a major new retail development on Melody Mountain had recently been announced by RG Properties, and we expressed hope on Jan. 1 that actual construction would be completed in 2013. For the most part, that was accomplished. PetSmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods were built and opened on property between Walmart and O’Charley’s during the year, and they both seem to be doing a thriving business. Our hope is that in 2014, Kohl’s will be built at the same location. That project was delayed at the request of Kohl’s until 2014.

In all, RG Properties originally announced plans for a 120,000-square-foot development that would include at least five retail stores. Our hope is that in 2014, Kohl’s will not be the only new business to open on Melody Mountain.

--Back on Jan. 1, we expressed hope that “at least one vacant building in downtown Ashland will be at least partially occupied in 2013.” That hope was fulfilled when King’s Daughters’ Home Medical Equipment moved into the first floor of the long-vacant building that once housed Sears. In fact, having a business on the first floor of the six-story building at the corner of Winchester Avenue at 17th Street and the Ashland Alliance moving across Winchester Avenue into the offices on the first floor of the former Henry Clay Hotel at the other end of the block was the best news in downtown Ashland in 2013, particularly with city workers and outside contractors doing a great job of refurbishing the block that also includes a parking lot where J.C. Penney’s once was.

Unfortunately, the news was not so positive in the remainder of downtown Ashland. Parson’s Furniture, located across 17th Street from the old Sears building, has closed. Another long-time downtown business, Ashland News, also closed during the year creating another vacant downtown building. J&S Jewelry, on 16th Street, also announced it was going out of business.

“In a perfect world, we would hope to see new businesses locate in the former Sears, the Kitchen and G.B. Johnson buildings on Winchester during the year,” we wrote on Jan. 1, “but that may be unrealistically ambitious.”

It was, of course, but having the old Sears building go from being a sad reminder of downtown’s brighter days to a hopeful sign of a better future was at least a positive sign of progress during the year. We hope for more in 2014.

--With President Obama being unpopular in Kentucky, we expressed hope on Jan. 1 that the Kentucky General Assembly would “not allow its dislike of President Obama and the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare) to prevent that state from taking full advantage of the health care reform law.”

Thanks more to Gov. Steve Beshear than legislators, that did not happen in 2013. Using executive orders than legislators did not overturn, Beshear, a Democrat, created the Kentucky health exchange to allow residents to sign up for Obamacare, and agreed to the expansion that extended Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income residents. As a result, while Americans in other states were struggling with computer glitches that prevented them from signing up for coverage under the health care law, Kentucky residents were not experiencing such problem, and low income Kentuckians were not being denied basic health care

“We fear the Affordable Care Act is a misnomer and the law will prove to be extremely expensive,” we wrote on Jan. 1. “But that is not the issue now. Uncle Sam is offering the opportunity for Kentucky to offer Medicaid to thousands of Kentuckians at little or no cost. To not take advantage of that would be foolish.”

Unlike many other states, Kentucky was not so foolish in 2013.

--We expressed hope that “the 2013 General Assembly will approve a pension reform plan that not only will stop the red ink but also begin raising the funds needed to begin paying down the huge funding imbalance  that currently exists.”

To their credit, legislators in 2013 took the first step toward solving its pension woes, but it was only a half step. The next step is fully funding the promises made in the 2013 law including no longer underfunding its pension liabilities, something legislators had been doing for years. To keep that promise, legislators will have to come up with thousands of dollars in new money for pensions, and with state revenue still tight, more of the new money in the 2014-16 budget legislators will approve in 2014 will go to funding the pension reform law, not for new programs.

To generate new revenue, the 2014 General Assembly should approve at least some of the tax reforms recommended by a task force headed by Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and to place a constitutional amendment to allow expanded gambling on the November ballot.

--Finally, we wrote on Jan. 1 that we hoped our leaders in Washington “will show a new spirit of cooperation in 2013, but frankly, we see no signs of that as we begin at new year.” As we begin another new year, we still see no signs of that, as dysfunctional government continues in Washington.

For the second consecutive year, we expressed on Jan. 1 hope that Ashland city leaders would make a greater effort to encourage increased use of Veterans’ Riverfront Park, but if that happened in 2013, we missed it.

Steps forward were taken in 2013, and that’s encouraging. As we list our “hopes” for 2014 in this space tomorrow, we hope the progress continues — and at a faster rate.