Half of the tax on Eastern Kentucky's biggest resource is distributed to counties that do not produce coal and it's always the center of debate come election time. One gubernatorial candidate says it may take some time, but he will fight to send 100 percent of coal severance tax back to coal producing counties. Could it really happen or is it just an attractive campaign promise for votes?
Gubernatorial Candidate Billy Harper is making a big promise. Coal producers say about 65% of coal comes from Eastern Kentucky, meaning a big jump could be headed for the region's economy.
"We think it's long overdue," said Paul Matney with TECO Coal.
Matney says most coal employees are also residents of coal producing counties and more money could move those rural areas into the 21st century.
"We need adequate water supply, adequate sewer. Those things cost more money to do in East Kentucky than they do down in the flat land," Matney said.
Billy Harper says bringing all of the tax back to those counties is an investment in their future.
"We should be putting that money into training, education, the things that truly could raise the economy of the area where coal comes from, so when the coal has gone the area has developed other abilities," Harper said.
Leslie County Judge Executive Jimmy Sizemore says the counties could not only use more money, but also more flexibility with it.
"We can just spend it in certain ways. If we could spend it anyway we wanted to, that would be a lot better too," Sizemore said.
"It's interesting when you get into campaigns. People start promising all sorts of things," Fletcher said.
Governor Fletcher's administration increased the amount coming back from 47% to the current 50% and added local control for single county money for the first time. Fletcher says he has bigger dreams for the other 50 percent.
"We have the opportunity of taking that multi-county money and putting it into the general fund to attract some large coal to liquid plants here," Fletcher said.
Billy Harper says he does not believe moving such a dramatic amount of money out of the general fund could be done in four years, but he would like to implement a phasing project to begin the process.