Our mistake shines light on welcome change in Pike Co.

April 24, 2014 

We were wrong. We were so very wrong last week when we praised the legislature for abstaining from its usual binge of severance-tax spending in favor of reserving the dwindling coal revenue for creating jobs.

We're sorry and not just because it's embarrassing to commit a factual error. We're sorry, too, because what we had reported seemed like such a hopeful sign. We thought that mountain lawmakers had finally gotten serious about building a more diverse and resilient economy, which is what the severance tax was always supposed to do.

But the usual pages and pages of appropriations for fire departments, senior citizens centers, school renovations, police cruisers, an American Legion post, on and on are in the budget just approved by lawmakers.

With one exception: Pike County.

Faced with requests that far exceeded the available severance dollars from a fading coal industry and spearheaded by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, Pike County's lawmakers decided to do something new.

They set aside $2.4 million in each year of the biennium that can be awarded as grants "for bona fide economic and industrial development projects as prescribed by" the law that other lawmakers seem to have long ago forgotten.

We hope applicants for the money bring ideas that immediately create some good, lasting jobs. But if no such ideas emerge, the almost $5 million can be rolled over, joined with the next biennium's allocation and perhaps eventually seed an economic development trust fund, along the lines of those funded with revenue from mining in other states that have extractive industries.

There's an old saying — "If nothing changes, nothing changes"— which describes Eastern Kentucky's economic plight. There's lots of encouraging talk, but not much evidence that elected officials have the will to do things differently.

Thanks to the delegation from Pike, Kentucky's largest county and one of the mountains' most progressive, for providing an example of change.

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