The Kentucky General Assembly once again has the opportunity to undo a wrong that has gone on far too long at the expense of eastern Kentucky residents.
Now, more than ever it is time for the legislative leaders to push forward with a bill sponsored by Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard, to return all coal severance tax dollars back to the counties that produce the coal and pay the taxes.
Floyd County Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall indicated in a story published earlier this week that he expects the outcome of the bill to be of the same unfavorable fate as those filed by previous legislators in years past.
Sadly, for the counties producing the coal and paying the tax, the need to return the money back to the coalfields is at a critical point now as many are financially strapped due to the decline of the industry over the past four years.
The money needs to be returned with strong “encouragement” that it be used to continue to develop infrastructure that fuels diversification of the local economy. Our economy’s dependence on coal clearly seems to be outliving the region’s life expectancy due to various factors, especially at the federal level of our government.
The money clearly is running out and our cities, counties and other entities are finding it difficult to survive. Already, layoffs, cuts in services and elimination of various projects have been a result of the loss of coal severance dollars. Current needs cannot be met due to dwindling funds from the state and federal governments.
We have previously commended area councils and other entities for being proactive and preparing for this downward spiral of funding. The coal tax dollars have been our lifeblood to date.
As a region, we can only hope that our legislative leaders take Rep. Steele’s bill seriously.
Yes, we agree with Judge-Executive Marshall, “If we produce it, we ought to get to keep it.” However, we also know the fight won’t be an easy one as the legislators from other regions of the state don’t want to give up the state’s share of the funds because it may set their agendas back some in their own communities.
The failure for the legislature to take this seriously will only prove more detrimental to not only our region, but to our state as a whole because more and more people are going to be forced to be dependent on assistance programs because they can’t find jobs.
Our region has been forgotten far too long.
-Harlan Daily Enterprise|Civitas Media, LLC