Smith said Gov. Beshear has repeatedly shown that he is not a proponent of coal.
“A lot of stuff that they (Beshear’s administration) were saying wasn’t true” Smith said. “This administration has turned its back on coal. They are not friendly toward coal, I don’t think they are going to be friendly toward coal. They could not name another industry in the state that they are going to try to saddle with as much a burden as they are getting ready to put on the coal industry.”
He added that Beshear’s failure to grant additional mining permits also shows his feelings about the coal industry.
“The administration stood up there in front of us and said they were concerned about these permits and we know without a doubt that they are holding us up,” he said.
While several audience members were allowed to discuss their views during Behsear’s visit, Smith was upset that he was overlooked.
“I stood up at the end of the meeting because I had a series of questions that I wanted to address. They wouldn’t recognize me. I found out later that they had never intended on letting me speak — I guess because they were afraid of what I would say,” he said. “I actually got a little tickled that they were that afraid of what I may say, that they didn’t want to recognize me. I was the one guy in the room that knew what the truth was and could articulate that, and I was the one guy in the room that they didn’t let speak.”
Smith was also critical of Beshear’s plans to use approximately $17 million in excess coal severance money to help shore up the state’s budget woes.
“If you are only getting back 15 to 20 percent of your money, there is no surplus. How can you call it a surplus when there isn’t enough to go around? You are only giving us about 15 to 20 percent of it, and now you say you are going to take the surplus. How can you call it a surplus when we are underfunded for the stuff we have right now?” he said. “It offended me for him to come down here and make those comments in front of the people in my district, because we are smarter than that.”
Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop expressed optimism that the use of all coal severance money is not an option.
“I have a better feeling because not everything is on the table, but just surplus money. When the state budget hurts, county budgets end up feeling the pinch. I guess we just have to look at taking the medicine the easiest way we can. We are going to fight for our position. We’ll be meeting with the governor within the next few weeks,” Grieshop said. “He is stating that the projects that were passed in the last legislative session would not be touched. Judge-executives are very nervous, because he talked about the LGEA fund, which is coal severance money that comes to us directly every quarter. That would hurt deeply because our cities and county have budgeted this money into our annual budget. There is no such thing as a surplus in that account.”
Smith questioned if Beshear will support the coal industry as federal legislators pass stiffer regulations.
“I wanted to ask them, as the federal level begins to drastically try to legislate us out of existence, are they going to stand up for us. I think the answer is clear, I think that is no,” he said.
Smith condemned recent comments that were made by the current administration regarding the citizens of eastern Kentucky an their votes in the recent presidential election.
“I have been pretty open-minded as long as I have been in office, but those comments have really bothered me far more than anything I have ever heard anybody say,” he said.
During his visit, Beshear also discussed his support for increasing the state’s cigarette tax by 70 cents per pack. Grieshop expressed concern regarding the drastic increase.
“I have some reservation. I don’t mind raising cigarette tax some, but I would be careful if we push the cigarette tax issue to the point where it is used to balance the state budget,” he said. “I think you should also look at alcoholic beverages and other tax revenue sources. The cigarette tax puts a lot of burden on one section of the state.”
Smith questioned why Beshear’s budget proposal was created without input from the Senate.
“This administration has made these decisions without inviting us. I have no idea what is in the budget. He has made these proposals from behind closed doors without any input from me or the Democrats,” he said.
Although Smith disagrees with the current administration on several issues, he stressed that he would continue to work with the governor.
“This doesn’t end our relationship, it is part of one. There are probably 99 other things out there that we will work together on,” he said.