Frankfort Local News

Proposal to Repay Federal Loan Interest Could Save Kentucky Employers From Extra Fees

A deal to help Kentucky repay a federal loan is officially on the table.

During the recession, the commonwealth borrowed more than $900 million from the federal government to shore up the unemployment insurance fund. In 2010, the General Assembly approved a plan to repay the debt over time. But when that measure passed, lawmakers and the governor believed the federal government would defer interest payments. That didn’t happen, and the state was left on the hook for millions of dollars in interest. If Kentucky doesn’t make the interest payments, employers will face government fees and the loss of federal tax credits on unemployment insurance.

House Bill 495 was proposed this week to address the problem. It allows the state to take a loan from an outside source to pay down the interest. It appears that Kentucky Employers Mutual Insurance—which helps fund workers’ compensation to employers—will provide that loan.

“There’s some talk that they would, that they would in effect use some of that reserve money and pay this back and then that money would be paid back through the assessment mechanism. So KEMI would become, yeah the bank so to speak,” says House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

Frankfort Local News

After Years of Debate, Charter Schools Bill Gets First Hearing

After several years, a bill allowing charter schools in Kentucky has received a hearing in a House committee.

Advocates for and against the measure spent this morning debating the merits of the education reform in the capitol. Charter school administrators from other states joined Rep. Brad Montell, the bill’s sponsor, and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president Dave Adkisson in support of the bill.

If approved, charter schools would operate as public schools in Kentucky, meaning they could receive public funds. And House Bill 77 allows for charters to be approved either by local school boards or a new state oversight agency. If a charter doesn’t turn things around in a district in five years, it can be shuttered.

Opponents often point to mixed performance results as proof that charters are not a cure-all for education. But Adkisson says that’s a poor argument.

“You know the best argument I’ve heard against charter schools has been well the results are mixed, the research on these is mixed,” he says. “You know I have three grandkids in Lexington. If they were stuck in a consistently low-performing schools and if somebody said, by the way, there’s an alternative but the results are mixed, I would gamble on mixed results every time.”

Opponents against charter schools included the Kentucky Education Association and a few of its members and the state association of school superintendents.

The teachers urged lawmakers to wait for current reforms to fully take effect before trying charter schools. And they say allowing charters would take away needed money for current school projects. And Executive Director of the State Association for School Superintendents Wilson Sears says current public schools get too much blame. He says charter school advocates don’t account for the personal and social factors that lead students to bad get grades.

“These are not problems created by public schools, although we are routinely criticized for not solving them,” he says. “Furthermore, these are no problems that can be solved by charter schools, magnet schools, home schooling or private schooling. There are no magic solutions.”

Charter school advocates said some charters, called wrap-arounds, allow students to stay at the school for longer hours than normal to compensate for bad home lives.

House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins says the panel will continue holding hearings until lawmakers feel confident in their knowledge of the issue.

Environment Local News

Kentucky Trade Delegation Returns From China

The delegation, in front of the Great Wall of China. Photo courtesy Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.In recent years, China has surpassed the United States in how much coal it burns for electricity. But China is also investing a lot of money in technology to burn the coal more cleanly. That’s the conclusions from a Kentucky trade delegation that just returned from a 10-day trip to Shanghai, Beijing and Inner Mongolia.

Kentucky’s trade delegation included representatives from the University of Kentucky, the state Chamber of Commerce and coal companies.

Chad Harpole is the Kentucky Chamber’s director of public affairs. He sees China’s progress in cleaner coal technology as good news for Kentucky.

“What China is doing is showing that it can be done,” he said. “And Kentucky and the nation is right there trying to play catch up with them and get the economics figured out where it will be cost feasible to do this stuff.”

Harpole says if the United States wants to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, it should abandon inefficient power plant scrubbers and follow China’s lead by investing more in newer coal technology.

“It takes more coal to burn to get the same amount of power with scrubbers, etcetera,” he said. “And that’s something that China has figured out and that’s why they continue to update and modernize their grid system and their power plants.”

Harpole says Chinese scientists are also making strides in coal to gas liquification in an attempt to reduce their country’s reliance on foreign oil.

Local News

State Chamber President Backs Workplace Smoking Ban

The president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has thrown his support behind a proposed statewide smoking ban in the workplace.

Dave Adkisson testified before a legislative panel in Frankfort today.

He says ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the chamber to take such a position.

“The business community now sees the effects of smoking on our workforces in terms of absenteeism and lost productivity. We also see the effect on our insurance premiums and now on our tax bills, especially when you consider the of smoking to our Medicare program, our Medicaid program, which of course is haunting our state budget,” he said.

Adkisson says Kentucky businesses suffer productivity losses of $2.6 billion annually because of smoking.

Local News Next Louisville Politics

Paul Calls For Term Limits For Some Federal Agency Chiefs

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul wants term limits for the heads of federal regulatory agencies. Paul made the comment during a meeting with leaders of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Monday.

Paul says federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, have too much power. He says the EPA is an “out of control bureaucracy that needs to be restrained.” “The bureaucracies have grown so large that they are controlling and running government. In fact, I’ve been thinking recently, I’m for term limits for politicians. Maybe we should have term limits for the heads of regulatory agencies as well,” he said.

Also during the question and answer session to be posted on the Internet, Paul spoke out against tariffs on foreign goods, but says the U.S. should quit sending foreign aid to countries that subsidize industry. Paul says the electricity grid that crosses Kentucky makes it an ideal state for nuclear power plants.

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jack Conway has been invited to make a similar appearance before the chamber, but as yet has not accepted.

Local News

Kentucky Chamber Issues State Progress Report

By Rick Howlett

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce says the commonwealth is seeing gains most of the areas that make up the foundation of its strategic plan for improving the state.

That’s according to a progress report issued Monday during the chamber’s annual economic summit in Louisville.

“(The areas are) education, government modernization, health and wellness, global competitiveness and energy. And in four of those five goals we’re moving forward,” said Bryan Sunderland, the business group’s Vice-President for Public Affairs.

The report describes Kentucky’s status in the health and wellness category as “standing still,” citing the state’s continued low rankings on national indicators and and the failure of wellness initiatives in the 2010 General Assembly.

Local News

Chamber of Commerce Survey Finds Hopeful Business Owners

A recent survey by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce finds companies are feeling hopeful about the future of the economy.  

The electronic survey was sent to 1,600 businesses, and 250 completed the survey.  Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson says it included questions about how their business was faring in the economy, and about what they expect over the next three, six, and twelve months.

“Is it absolute? No one claims to have the crystal ball,” says Adkisson, “but these 250 business people have given us their best opinion of where it will be, and that opinion is encouraging relative to where we are right now.”

Adkisson says one-out-of-five business owners think they will still be laying off employees in one year’s time.  Two say their workforces will remain steady at that time, and two think they will be hiring more employees.