FRANKFORT — With a potential NASCAR Sprint Cup race hanging in the balance, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear wrangled publicly Tuesday with leading lawmakers from his own party.
Beshear warned that efforts to lure a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to the Kentucky Speedway in Gallatin County will be jeopardized if House Democrats don't suspend their internal rules and take up proposed legislation on the matter in this final week of the 2009 General Assembly session.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo didn't budge, suggesting instead that a Sprint Cup race might not happen any time soon, regardless of the legislature's actions.
After pledging to do "whatever it takes" to eventually lure a Sprint Cup race, Stumbo said "we do have concerns from published reports that indicate such a race may not be allowed until pending litigation involving Kentucky Speedway interests and NASCAR is resolved."
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Stumbo was referring to a March 23 story from The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer about a pending lawsuit between NASCAR and Jerry Carroll, a former Kentucky Speedway owner.
The newspaper reported that NASCAR says it has not received a request from Speedway Motorsports Inc., which now owns the Kentucky Speedway, to move one of its Sprint Cup Series race dates to Kentucky. However, SMI asserted that it has submitted such a request in a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston was not available for comment Tuesday about the report.
Carroll and other former owners are appealing a U.S. District Court decision that dismissed their lawsuit, which alleged that NASCAR had conspired with another group of track owners to block Kentucky Speedway from getting a Sprint Cup race.
Carroll said Tuesday that the lawsuit has "nothing to do" with SMI's efforts to bring the NASCAR race to the Kentucky Speedway.
"It's a mystery to me why Speaker Stumbo is concerned about this," Carroll said. "The bill passed the House earlier this session 98-0, and it's ironic that in these hard economic times when we have an effort to bring a major-league deal to Kentucky that there is concern about a lawsuit that is not relevant to this effort."
Beshear, speaking at a news conference Tuesday in the state Capitol, said it would be a "tragedy" if lawmakers passed up the opportunity to help Kentucky Speedway. He also urged lawmakers to take up several other proposals that he said have widespread support.
The incentive package, now contained in an omnibus economic-development bill cobbled together by the Senate, would provide tax credits worth about $19 million to help expand the 72,000-seat track in Sparta.
The expansion would add 50,000 seats to the facility, triple the number of bathrooms, add more concessions, provide more parking and build more roads. The race could generate $150 million to $200 million for the state every year it is held, Beshear said.
"That will be a tragedy if we miss that opportunity," he said.
Earlier this week, House Democratic leaders said new House rules prevent the chamber from voting on any bills when the General Assembly reconvenes Thursday and Friday. They said the final two days are set aside exclusively to consider vetoes issued by Beshear.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he will ask the Democratic caucus to vote Thursday on whether to suspend the rules, which would allow them to consider more legislation. But Stumbo said he thinks the legislature can wait until the regular session next January to consider pending bills.
Meanwhile, prosecutors and public defenders said Tuesday that they plan to press House leaders to hear the Senate's version of House Bill 433, a budget "cleanup" bill that includes $4.7 million for the state's public defenders and $4.7 million for prosecutors.
Public Advocate Ed Monahan has warned state officials that his office will be out of money and will have to shut down by the end of April if new money isn't injected into the office, which has a constitutional obligation to represent poor criminal defendants.
Monahan said his office's financial situation is dire and can't wait until July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, for more money.
"We will completely run out of money and will not be able to serve our clients, and that will put public safety at risk," he said. "There is broad understanding and support for our need and I am very hopeful that the General Assembly will be responsive to that."
Chris Cohron, president of the state's Commonwealth's Attorneys Association, said the state's prosecutors are looking at an additional 8 percent cut to their funding come July 1 if they don't get the $4.7 million.
"It's a fair statement that the biggest brunt of the budget deficit has been on the prosecutors," Cohron said. "We're the only people that have sent people home for up to three weeks of unpaid furloughs."
However, House Majority Caucus Chair Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said Monday that he and others think Beshear already has the authority to give money to prosecutors and public defenders.
Other major pieces of legislation in limbo this week include a bill to create an authority to fund and oversee mega-bridge projects in Louis ville, and authorization for the University of Kentucky to continue exploring the idea of having a private company fully finance a renovation of Commonwealth Stadium and a new baseball stadium.
It's not clear how the potential UK projects would be affected if lawmakers don't take action this year.
"We are currently seeking proposals from private firms and we are encouraging potential respondents to consult the management of Lexington Center Corp. to submit a proposal that also includes the construction of a new downtown basketball arena," said UK spokesman Jimmy Stanton.
"If the General Assembly does not take action this session, we will continue with our solicitation and evaluation of proposals and explore how best to move forward."