FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A pricey polar bear exhibit at the Louisville Zoo and whether state university employees should have domestic partner benefits are on the legislative docket when the General Assembly convenes in special session this week.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed an executive order Monday calling lawmakers back to Frankfort at 4 p.m. EDT Thursday at a cost to taxpayers of about $60,000 per day. Fletcher's to-do list for legislators includes considering financial incentives for companies interested in building alternative fuel plants in the state and giving active duty and reserve military families a state income tax break.
"While the urgent need to pass an energy bill to attract jobs and economic development is the reason for calling this special session, there are other issues that the legislature should consider that are very important to the commonwealth," Fletcher said in a statement.
This marks the third time Fletcher has called the legislature into a special session since he took office in 2003. He also called sessions in October 2004 and June 2006.
Fletcher, in building his case for a special session, provided lawmakers with letters from four companies, including Peabody Energy Corp., that say Kentucky needs to offer incentives in order to compete with other states.
Peabody is considering building a coal conversion plant that could cost up to $3 billion and create up to 800 full-time jobs, according to one of the letters released last month. Peabody wants to decide this summer where to build the plant, and Kentucky would need to pass financial incentives to stay in the running, according to the letter from Peabody executive Rick Bowen.
The plan, outlined to a legislative energy subcommittee, calls for about $315 million in tax breaks over 25 years to companies that spend $2.5 billion or more on coal-conversion plants.
Lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled House and GOP-led Senate disagree on whether such a session would be necessary now or could
wait until early next year when the legislature is scheduled to reconvene.
But Fletcher has also called legislators back to deal with a variety of other issues - including $427.6 million in capital projects - some of which the governor has already vetoed from the two-year state spending plan.
Lawmakers will be asked to consider authorizing about $360.1 million in projects that Fletcher vetoed once before, along with about $67.5 million in new spending, Fletcher spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said.
Some of the projects include a student recreation center at Morehead State University and renovation of the Blazer Hall cafeteria at the University of Kentucky. Lawmakers would also consider authorizing $9 million for a runway relocation project at the Bluegrass Airport.
Fletcher also asked lawmakers to consider funding for a polar bear exhibit at the Louisville Zoo. Lawmakers had previously authorized $6 million in spending for the project before Fletcher cut it from the budget.
Other projects include outdoor and indoor arenas at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington in anticipation of the 2010 World Equestrian Games and an expansion project at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and a grant to the Muhammad Ali Center, both in Louisville.
Fletcher had vetoed many of the projects in 2006, saying at the time that the state couldn't afford to take on that much new debt.
However, buoyed by better-than-expected state revenue, Fletcher and some lawmakers have favored reinstating the projects.
Fletcher, a Republican, is seeking a second term in November against Democrat Steve Beshear.
House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he thought Fletcher had "loaded it up" to appeal to a wide range of people for political reasons. Richards said he wasn't sure any of the issues couldn't wait until early 2008 given the hefty price tag that goes with special sessions.
"It certainly looks about as political as any call I've ever seen," Richards said.
Last week, Richards left open the possibility that House lawmakers could choose to convene and adjourn the same day, without taking action. On Monday, Richards said the House had options and Democratic members would meet on Thursday morning to consider them.
Nevertheless, Senate President David Williams said he agreed with Fletcher.
"I approve of the call," Williams said. "I think it's a strong call."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)