Senate faulted on Speedway

jbrammer@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2009 

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo is blaming the Senate for the demise of a tax-incentives bill in this year’s legislative session designed to help lure a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to the Kentucky Speedway in Gallatin County.

But Senate President David Williams said Stumbo’s action is a move by the Democrat-controlled House “to try to blame us for everything that went wrong” in the session.

“They had ought to be called on it,” Williams said.

State lawmakers wrapped up the 2009 General Assembly last Thursday without taking up any additional legislation, including tax incentives for the 72,000-seat track near Sparta.

House Democrats decided to stick to their rules, which say the chamber may consider only vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear — and not legislation — in the final days of a session. Such rules often have been suspended in years past.

Beshear, a Democrat, and Williams, a Republican from Burkesville, expressed disappointment with the move by the House.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, countered last week that the Senate still had time to act on the initial Speedway bill the House had sent to the upper chamber.

Stumbo on Wednesday released to the news media a column laden with racing jargon. In it, he noted that the House unanimously approved a measure granting tax incentives to the Speedway.

“As fans of racing know, however, a yellow flag can come up without warning,” he said.

“It happened this legislative session when the House and Senate found themselves on opposite sides of what should be a minor issue. The problem: Should Kentucky workers be hired to work on the track?”

Stumbo said the House thought tax dollars should be used only to help workers and families, not out-of-state corporations.

He said, “The House proposal rewards Kentucky Speedway for every Kentuckian hired. If half of the jobs go to Kentucky workers, half of the tax incentive money goes to Kentucky Speedway. Simple, right?”

It was unfortunate, Stumbo said, that “the House’s protection of Kentucky jobs was eliminated from the bill sent to us on the very last day for action. We decided to hold out for Kentucky workers, rather than cave in to last-minute pressure.”

The speaker was not available to answer questions about his column.

His office spokesman, ­Brian Wilkerson, said the column “was not an attempt to blame anyone,” just an attempt to explain why the legislation for Speedway did not pass.

The Speedway measure — House Bill 521 — was introduced in the House on Feb. 23. It would have allowed Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Kentucky Speedway, to recover up to one-fourth of expansion costs over 20 years through sales tax revenues collected at the track.

Bruton Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, recently said the track is planning a $75 million expansion at an economic impact to the state of as much as $200 million.

House Democratic leaders added the provision about requiring Kentucky workers on the Speedway renovations to a committee substitute March 3.

Legislative action then stalled on the bill.

On March 13, a Senate committee included the Speedway incentives, but not the labor provision, in a substitute to House Bill 229.

The Senate approved the amended bill later that day and sent it back to the House, where no more action was taken.

Williams said the Senate took out the labor provision “because we thought there might be some specialized companies from out of state needed for some of the renovation work and some workers on the project who might live across the Ohio River.”

The Senate leader dubbed Stumbo’s latest comments “complete revisionist history” and said he thinks House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, pushed for the labor provision on behalf of unions.

Allison Haley, a spokeswoman for Clark, said the labor provision was “a collaborative effort of all House Democratic leadership, and House members agreed with it with their 98-0 vote.”

Williams also said Mark Guilfoyle, a Northern Kentucky attorney who represents Smith, told legislators the labor provision “needed to come out of the bill.”

Asked about Williams’ comments, Guilfoyle said, “Nobody at the Kentucky Speedway is looking backward. We are focused now on getting the bill passed in special session.”

Beshear has said he might have to call a special legislative session before the new fiscal year begins July 1 to deal with an expected budget shortfall.

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