Senate panel combines 2 bills to aid Eastern Kentucky

Two bills designed to promote economic development in Eastern Kentucky were combined into one Wednesday and sent to the Senate.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee approved and combined House Bill 156, which sets up a Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority to promote outdoor recreation and tourism with money from the state’s abandoned mine lands fund, and Senate Bill 215, which uses coal severance money to create a Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority to aid local economies.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said both bills already have been approved in their respective chambers but “got lost in these late hours, and action was needed to keep them going.” They are now together in HB 156.

The recreation authority might get about $1 million initially. The coal fields measure would create a public corporation authorized to collect $7.5 million a year .

Money for the authority would come from the state General Fund’s share of coal severance tax revenue, estimated to be $112 million this year after deductions for various programs. The other half of that tax revenue is returned by the state to coal-producing counties.

The authority would start an endowment to finance projects in Eastern and Western Kentucky’s coalfields including economic development, public infrastructure, public health and information technology. It would be overseen by a seven-member board appointed by the governor.

Coal-producing counties have watched their coal severance tax revenue plummet in recent years as the mining industry collapsed, so they have little left to spend, said Smith.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics