Steele prefiles coal severance bill

By Matthew Rand | 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WMYT) - The announcement of more coal layoffs in Eastern Kentucky underscores the downturn in the industry and the effect that it is having on local economies and governments. One state representative is pushing for legislation that would bring more money to coal producing counties, but it is likely to run into opposition in the General Assembly.

State Representative Fitz Steele's bill would change the way the state distributes coal severance money. He wants 100 percent of the funding to go back to counties that produce coal.

Diminished coal production continues to plague Eastern Kentucky, sharply cutting into the budgets of coal producing counties that depend on coal severance dollars to operate. Right now, only half of coal severance funds stay in coal counties, while the other half goes into the general fund. State Representative Fitz Steele says he wants to change that.

"What I want to do with this bill is to return 100 percent of each coal producing county in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, their tax dollars back," Steele said.

Steele's bill, filed in advance of this year's General Assembly, would also abolish an industrial development fund and a project that funds scholarships to the University of Pikeville's Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. That provision has drawn criticism from U-PIKE's president.

"That scholarship money does not result in any increase in revenue for the University of Pikeville. It does reduce the cost of education to Kentucky citizens who want to become doctors and remain in Kentucky to practice," said U-PIKE President Paul Patton.

Patton says he doubts Steele's proposal will gain much traction in the state legislature, which Steele acknowledges.

"It's always a hard fight in Frankfort, but that's why they send us up there. There's nothing easy in Frankfort," Steele said.

Steele says if he can not get his bill passed in this year's General Assembly, he will simply try again in the next session.

If Steele's bill were to become law, 100 percent of coal severance revenues would go into the Local Government Economic Assistance fund, which provides money directly to city councils and fiscal courts.

The General Assembly convenes January 8th.

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