Environment Local News

Utility Companies Tell Lawmakers Environmental Upgrades Will Raise Rates

Several utility companies across Kentucky told a legislative committee ratepayers should expect a 20 percent increase over the next five years, largely due to environmental upgrades.

According to KPR’s Tony McVeigh:

“Representatives of several coal-fired utilities in Kentucky say meeting federal clean air standards already in the pipeline will require investments of billions of dollars.  John Voyles of LG&E and KU says their capital costs could rise by four billion dollars over the next ten years.

‘This does not deal with the water rules.  It does not deal with renewable portfolio standards of any kind.  And it certainly does not deal with any climate change rules that might still be legislated in the future.'”

LG&E announced last week that it would be seeking cost recovery for $2.5 billion in upgrades for its coal-fired power plants. Besides LG&E, Big Rivers Electric Corporation, Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative and Duke Energy have planned rate increases.

The increases are ultimately up to the Public Service Commission. According to The Lexington Herald-Leader, at least one state senator is questioning why rates continue to go up, even in coal-producing areas.

“But Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, questioned why the statutes allow the companies to recover both capital and operating costs from customers for changes made to comply with regulations. That means they can still make a profit and pass all of the costs to the customers.

‘That doesn’t sit right with me,’ Jones said. In the past, Jones and other Eastern Kentucky legislators have questioned why power rates in Eastern Kentucky have sky-rocketed over the past several years, while power companies continue to make healthy profits.”

Local News Politics

State Legislators Return for Special Session

For the second time in ten months, Kentucky lawmakers are returning to Frankfort for a special session.

After lawmakers failed to balance the Medicaid budget in this year’s 30-day regular session, Governor Beshear ordered them back for a special session. The House favors the governor’s plan to shift second-year Medicaid funding forward. The Senate prefers budget cuts. Beshear hopes for middle ground.

“While I believe strongly that my proposal is the best common-sense solution, I remain open to other suggestions,” he says.

Last year, the General Assembly failed to pass a budget in the 60-day regular session and needed a six-day special session to finish their work. Special sessions cost taxpayers around $64,000 a day.

Local News Politics

Senate Rejects Beshear’s Plan to Balance Medicaid Budget, Approves Its Own Spending Bill

The Kentucky Senate last night rejected Governor Steve Beshear’s plan for balancing the state’s Medicaid budget.  The Republican-controlled Senate voted 24-12 for its own budget-balancing plan, which requires across-the-board cuts to state agencies.

“I will tell you that the cuts that have been proposed in this particular bill are very modest cuts. It’s necessary because we spend most of our money in Medicaid, education, incarceration. These major things that we spend our money on have to be included,” says Senate President David Williams.

The Democratic-controlled House supported the governor’s proposal, but Speaker Greg Stumbo believes there’s room for compromise.

“There’s nothing to say that you really couldn’t really combine both of those bills and say, all right governor, here you’ve got the opportunity – you’re the chief magistrate of this state, you’re the guy that’s in charge of all the administrative functions of this state,” says Stumbo. “But if you can’t do that, or if you can only do part of that, then here’s what you have to do to make up the difference.”

The search for a compromise likely will require House and Senate negotiators to meet in conference committee before the session ends.  Only five days remain in the 30-day session.

Local News Politics

Bill to Expand and Elect Public Service Commission Revised, Now Calls for Study

A Senate bill aimed at expanding the Kentucky Public Service Commission to seven members, elected by the people, has been altered in House committee. The bill now calls for creation of a legislative task force to study the issue and make recommendations for next year.

That’s fine, says Representative Keith Hall of Phelps, the bill’s House sponsor.

“The makeup currently is three senators and three house members, to be chaired by the Energy Committee, which I chair the House side, Brandon Smith chairs the Senate side. And we’ll make that more all-inclusive – maybe add more members, more consumer groups, business. They’re all welcome to the table,” he says.

The bill now moves to the House floor. Right now, the PSC is comprised of three members, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Public service commissions in at least 13 states are elected by the people.

Local News Politics

Republicans Planning Aggressive Agenda For 2011 General Assembly

Kentucky Senate Republicans are offering an aggressive agenda for the 2011 General Assembly, which begins January 4th.

For one thing, Senate Republicans want to reform Kentucky’s antiquated tax code, but they won’t try to get it all done in the 30 day session. Senate President David Williams says legislation will be offered creating a council to draft a new tax code. Council recommendations will then be put into bill form for action in the 2012 budget session.

“Our laws have to be changed to create jobs in this state, or we’re going to be an island of joblessness and continue to have a sea of red ink and an unemployment rate which is unacceptable and a future that is bleak, because our state is adrift,” he says.

Other priorities include charter schools, more government transparency, immigration enforcement and a crackdown on Medicaid fraud.

Local News

Hundreds Of Bills Awaiting Action Before General Assembly Adjourns

by Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

Only 14 days remain in the 2010 Kentucky General Assembly, with hundreds of bills still awaiting final action.

On February 4th, the Kentucky House voted 80-16 for legislation banning texting while driving. Four days later, the bill was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has seen no action. But former House Speaker Jody Richards, the bill’s primary sponsor, isn’t giving up yet.

“I have talked with Chairman Tom Jensen about it and he tells me that it still has time to make its way through the Senate, but he has not told me for sure if they are going to deal with it,” he says.

Another bill still awaiting action in Sen. Jensen’s committee is the sexting bill sponsored by Rep. Martha Jane King. It’s designed to prevent minors from using cell phones to transmit nude photographs of themselves to others. The bill unanimously passed the House on March 3rd. Like Richards, King is holding out hope for final passage of the bill before the session ends.

In-Depth News Local News WFPL News Department Podcast

Battle Brewing Over Special Session

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

A battle royal could be brewing between Kentucky Senate leaders and Governor Steve Beshear over the need for a special session on the state budget.

On Friday, after lengthy analysis of current and projected state revenue collections, the Consensus Forecasting Group predicted an almost $1 billion revenue shortfall for Kentucky in the next fiscal year.  Group chairman Larry Lynch says the panel had three forecast options: cfg4optimistic, control or pessimistic.  They went with a blend of control and pessimistic.

“Some argued 50/50,” said Lynch.  “There was one 75/25, one 25/75, so it was pretty much the consensus feeling that we’re not as optimistic as the control forecast would suggest.”

Bottom line, the panel of economic experts that advises the governor and legislative leaders believes the state’s facing a $996 million general fund deficit and a $239 million road fund shortfall in the fiscal year beginning July 1st.  It’s the biggest deficit in recent Kentucky history says Dr. Lynch.

“Probably in dollars,” said Lynch.  “I don’t know about percentage.  It was a lot worse back in ’82, I think.  Percentage-wise, it was like 10%, or something.  But that was a whole different environment.  Well, the recession was similar, but there was inflation going on at the same time.  It’s probably the biggest dollar amount in the last couple of decades, anyway.”

Immediately after the meeting, Governor Beshear issued a statement indicating plans to call a special session for June 15th to address the deficit.  He says in the next few days he will issue the official call and announce his budget proposal for the General Assembly’s consideration.  House Speaker Greg Stumbo issued a statement indicating a willingness to go along with the special session plan.  But that’s not the case with Senate President David Williams.  For one thing, he sees the deficit differently.  He says it doesn’t look as bad if you compare the revised revenue forecast for fiscal 2010 with the revised forecast for fiscal 2009.

“It’s my position that we don’t have a 10% shortfall of $996 million,” said Williams.  “We have a $129.9 million shortfall, which is 1.5% less than we had available last year.”

And that, says Williams, is manageable.  Furthermore, he says there’s no agreement between House and Senate leaders, and the governor, on ways to resolve the deficit.

“I feel very confident that we have a manageable situation and to spend $60,000 a day, $300,000 a week, for who knows how many weeks, to come up here when this interpretation is a reasonable interpretation and could avoid the necessity of a special session.”

But Williams says he and the governor have talked by phone about the budget crunch, which jibes with a comment the governor made earlier in the week about wanting an agreement before officially calling the session.

“I’m going to be working with Senator Williams, Speaker Stumbo and other members of the House and Senate to come up and fashion a solution to our budget problems,” said Beshear.  “And we’ll have a lot of discussions between now and the time that we come to some agreement.  But I’m going to seek common ground with the leadership in the House and Senate and I feel like that we’ll find that common ground.”

That remains to be seen.  Along with what actually will be on the call of the special session.  Will it include video slots at the horse tracks as a new source of state revenue?  The governor’s office isn’t talking, but Senate President David Williams is.  He says he doesn’t buy the revenue numbers being tossed around by supporters of expanded gambling, and soon will have more to say on that issue and the special session.

Arts and Humanities Local News WFPL News Department Podcast

More Money for Arts in Indiana Dems Budget

Indiana’s budget passed by a committee in the House of Representatives eases cuts proposed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

The House Ways and Means committee passed a one-year budget, instead of one covering two years. It erases the governor’s proposed cuts to education. It also reduces the Indiana Arts Commission’s budget by 8 percent, rather than the governor’s proposed 50 percent decrease.

The budget was crafted by the committee led by democrats, including Rep. Terry Goodin from Southern Indiana’s 66th District.

“In times of economic crisis, it seems like those areas are the places that are cut the most, which was evidenced in the governor’s budget,” Goodin says. “The arts are very critical and it’s also one area that has a very tough time finding any other types of funding.”

The Democrats’ plan would spend $14.6 billion in 2010 whereas Gov. Daniel’s plan spends $14.15 billion.

Goodin says most of the budget is what the Republican governor proposed.

“We took his outline and we actually built a budget using some of his proposals as a blueprint, and we put together a one-year budget that’s going to move our state forward,” he says.

The bill now goes to the full House.