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Rand Paul Talks Budgets, Government on Daily Show

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul continued his book tour this week, appearing on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The 15-minute interview (in three parts—1,2,3) covers current issues and the philosophical differences on government between Stewart and Paul. The second part, specifically, deals with the cause and effects of the recession, and whether budget crises federally and in the states are the result of government overspending or the economic slump.

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Fischer Unveils Transparency Plan

Democratic mayoral candidate Greg Fischer Tuesday unveiled his plan for transparency in government. But Republican candidate Hal Heiner’s campaign says Fischer’s plan is unoriginal.

Both candidates have made transparency a key part of their platforms. Heiner has long touted his work as a Metro Councilman on the e-transparency ordinance, which put city spending online.

Fischer’s transparency plan includes similar measures. It also calls for the city to develop a smart phone application and website that would allow citizens to report problems such as potholes and then track how Metro Government resolves the issue.

“This is much more than a checkbook online or spending online,” says Fischer. “This gets down more into performance measurements and metrics. This is what I’ve done in the private sector.”

Heiner proposed a similar application earlier in his campaign. A Heiner spokesperson says Fischer has co-opted his transparency plan.

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Area Receives C On Infrastructure Report Card

by Gabe Bullard

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the Louisville Metro Area a C on the latest infrastructure report card.

Engineers looked at infrastructure in the seven counties in Kentucky and five counties in southern Indiana that surround Louisville. The C grade is the average for eleven categories. Some, like roads, bridges and dams, were in the D range, while the area received higher marks for inland waterways, energy and drinking water.

Engineer Ted Niemann says the grades could be improved if area governments put more focus on maintaining existing infrastructure.

“We’ve been living too long on the ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ with that mindset,” he says. “We need to be able to focus and pay it forward a little bit.”

Niemann acknowledges that many state, county and city governments do not have enough money to make routine improvements. Nationwide, the average infrastructure grade is a D.

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Humana Has Extra Year Of Defense Contract

Louisville-based insurer Humana says it’s not yet clear what a contract extension from the U.S. Defense Department will mean for the company.

Earlier this year, Humana lost a bid to continue its contract to provide benefits for service members in the southern United States. The company filed a complaint and the Defense Department agreed to re-evaluate its decision.

In the meantime, the contract has been extended through March 2011. Humana spokesperson Tom Noland says the extension is a positive development, but it’s not yet clear what the extra time will be worth.

“On February 1st, 2010, we will assess quantitatively the impact, or the likely impact—the predicted impact—on the 2010 result of these decisions,” says Noland.

Last year, the contract represented about 11 percent of Humana’s revenue.

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Nearly 1/3 Of Kentuckians Uninsured Says Report

The healthcare advocacy group Families USA has released a new report that says nearly one third of Kentuckians under 65 were without insurance at some point during 2007 and 2008.

The report put Kentucky’s uninsured rate during the period at 32 percent. The national rate was 33.1 percent, and Indiana’s was 29 percent.

Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack says that’s unacceptable. He suggests the government step in to help them obtain coverage.

“One of the things that we’re hoping Congress will do and that we know President Obama supports is to predicate Medicaid eligibility need not on need plus family status,” he says.

Pollack says Medicaid does not adequately cover single people and childless couples. He also suggests the government provide subsidies to people just above the poverty line so they can pay insurance premiums.

“We’ve got to make sure that those people who can’t afford coverage can gain subsidies so that people on a sliding-scale basis can get help with the premiums that they otherwise can’t afford on their own,” he says.

Pollack says Massachussets has implemented a similar program.

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Laborers, Officials Prepare For Stimulus Funds

The federal stimulus package will send billions of dollars to cities and states in the form of tax cuts, Medicare funds, education spending and construction dollars. But while local governments have a general idea of how much money they will receive, there are still details to be worked out.

A significant portion of President Obama’s 787 billion dollar plan to rebuild the economy involves literally rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Those are the so-called “shovel-ready” projects such as road repairs and school improvements that mayors and governors outlined for the president last year.

“Any time that you’re investing in your infrastructure, you’re investing in your economy and the society,” says Joe Wise, the business manager for the Greater Louisville Building and Construction Trades Council.

Wise says construction is tied to the health of the economy, and since last year, both have been in decline. He says rebuilding the infrastructure will help reduce jobless numbers.

“Right now if you were to aggregate it across all the trades, I’d say we’re right at 9 or 10 percent unemployment,” says Wise. “A lot of these projects that we’re going to be doing are projects that we probably should have done years ago and we’ve just been waiting to get the money to do and were never able to get around get that money.”

The idea behind the construction spending is that it will stimulate the economy on several levels. People will return to work, paying local, state and federal taxes and buying goods and services from local businesses. Then those businesses can hire more employees, and so on. The increase in consumer spending would ideally create more of a demand for materials and manufactured goods, and for more workers.

“It really doesn’t matter whether it’s for a temporary job or a medium-term job; if we can just somehow get spending started up again, then that should help the economy get back on its feet again,” says Economist John Vahaly.

Vahaly is the chair of the University of Louisville’s Department of Economics. He says the basic idea of stimulating through spending should work…if the money is spent right.

“It’s up to sort of each state and each local government to make the best case it can to the federal authorities on ‘These are the needs that we have that sort of fit the goals of the program,” he says.

“I feel like I’ve been given a thousand piece picture puzzle and they only sent 250 pieces. I didn’t get the box cover so I’m not sure what the end result is going to be,” says Rick Johnstone.

Former Louisville Deputy Mayor Johnstone is now the director of Louisville at Work. The organization is made up of city department heads and elected officials who will oversee stimulus spending in Louisville. Kentucky stands to receive about $3.7 billion from the package, but Johnstone says he’s not sure yet exactly how much of that will come to Louisville.

“It looks like in the formula side – money we’re pretty sure we’re going to get – that there’s going to be something in the $200 million range,” he says. “It could be more.”

And it will likely be more. There are also tens of millions of dollars available through competitive grants that can be used for construction and other projects.

The stimulus funds will only be available for two years. By that point, it’s hoped that the economy will have recovered. There’s talk of yet another stimulus proposal if the current one doesn’t yield the expected results. But economics professor John Vahaly says that shouldn’t be necessary if other steps are taken.

“I personally think it’s probably in the right number, assuming they do something about the ongoing problem of all the bad debt that’s still in the financial system. If they don’t fix that debt problem, more money’s going to have to be spent,” he says.

The Treasury Department is putting together its plan to fix the banking system. Vahaly says without functioning banks, there won’t be construction and home loans, which means there won’t be anything to sustain the jobs created by the current stimulus when the funds run out in two years.

Click to track the money coming to Louisville, the roughly $4 billion going to Indiana or the national use of stimulus fonds.

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Beshear Promotes Teamwork Among Smaller Governments

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear talked about the power of teamwork during an address to the annual Local Issues Conference in Louisville Tuesday.

In his keynote speech, Beshear said every local government in Kentucky is facing a tough economy. The best way to cope with limited funds, he said, is through teamwork.

Earlier this week Beshear announced plans to scale back road construction projects. In his local issues speech, he called upon city and county governments to advise him on which projects to change, and in what ways.

Scott County Magistrate Tom Prather attended the conference. He says that while it makes short term financial sense to build narrower and less advanced roads in some areas, governments should plan ahead before making any decisions.

“Clearly we have to scale those projects to anticipate the future,” he says. “Either by right of way acquisition that’s done now or we anticipate those future needs given our understanding of how our communities will grow.”

The Local Issues Conference began on Monday and ends Wednesday.