Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 2, 2014

Time runs out

Bills to boost coal, save Big Sandy plant die in Senate

The Independent

ASHLAND — Two bills proposed by House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins and designed to boost the economy of this region have apparently died in the Kentucky Senate after being approved by the House of Representatives. Despite easily being approved by the Democratic-controlled House, neither bill was even brought up for a vote by the Republican-controlled Senate.

House Bill 474 was the least controversial of the two bills having sailed through the House by a vote of 95-1-1. It simply would have extended to the coal industry the same types of economic tax incentives the state offers to other industries. The bill would have amended state law to “allow coal mining or processing companies to potentially qualify for sales and use tax incentives offered through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative  Act ... and to potentially qualify for income tax incentives offered through the Kentucky Business Investment Act.”

The bill directed the Cabinet for Economic Development to work with various foreign trade partners and the Kentucky coal industry to promote increased exports of Kentucky coal.

Adkins saw the bill as a way to boost the state’s coal industry at a time when the closing of dozens of mines has resulted in the elimination of hundreds of the best-paying jobs in this region. Beyond that, we saw the bill as a matter of fairness. Over the years, economic development leaders in the state have lured dozens of industries to Kentucky by offering them tax breaks in exchange for creating a specified number of good jobs. Some of those incentives never panned out, but most did. Why should the coal industry be excluded from offering those types of incentives? We can’t think of any reasons, but apparently Republican leaders in the Senate were not interested enough in Adkins’ bill to even bring it up for discussion.

House Bill 573, which was something of a last-ditch effort by Adkins to save the Big Sandy Power Plant near Louisa from having one of its generators permanently shut down. That action would have eliminated some of the best-paying and most stable jobs in Lawrence County, plus the jobs of truck drivers who for decades have earned their living hauling coal from the mines to the power plant on U.S. 23 just a few miles from Louisa. The saving of the plant also would have preserved  one of the best customers for coal in this region.

The bill would have required the Public Service Commission “to reconsider issued orders that involve a multistate transaction that an out-of-state public service commission failed to approve” and would require the Kentucky PSC to “review its previous order and determine whether the order still is in the public interest of Kentucky taxpayers.”

Adkins was hoping the bill would have nixed Kentucky Power’s agreement to purchase half interest in Mitchell Power Plant in Moundsville, W.Va., to provide customers with the power lost by the closing of the Big Sandy plant.  In testimony before a House committee, Kentucky Power officials insisted the bill would not prevent the closing of the Big Sandy plant. Nevertheless, the bill was approved by the House by a vote of 62-34, Most of the opposition to the bill came from House Republicans, although State Rep. Jill York,  the only Republican in this region’s House delegation, broke with GOP leadership in the House by voting for the bill.

It is possible the House members will take up one or both of these bills when they return to Frankfort April 14 for the final two days of the 60-day session, but don’t count on it. The purpose of those two days is for legislators to decide on the fate of Gov. Steve Beshear’s vetoes of bills. While acting on pending bills during those two days is not unheard of, it certainly is unusual. From our vantage point, both of these bills appear to be dead, killed by Senate inaction.