News last week that $2.5 million in multi-county coal severance tax money is being used to renovate Rupp Arena has ruffled quite a few feathers in the mountains, but the foremost question we have is one you might not expect.
Has Eastern Kentucky had enough, yet?
Eastern Kentucky has a long and not too terribly proud tradition of watching as the wealth created by our natural resources is hauled away by the trainload for the benefit of someone else, someplace else.
This is not a new story. This is just more of the same.
Still, at a time when coal miners are being laid off by the thousands, when county governments are on the brink of financial disaster because of coal severance shortfalls, when the popular belief is that the coal industry is locked in permanent decline, and when more and more people are growing frustrated by ineffective state and local efforts to diversify the region’s economy, watching as $2.5 million is spent to fluff up the cushions for millionaires and future millionaires is more than a bit too much.
We simply cannot understand how mountain legislators did not stage a revolt over this outright theft, but they didn’t. Instead, unfathomably, unconscionably, they allowed it to happen.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo at first defended the move, saying, “Though Rupp is not in the coalfields, many believe it plays an important role in the state because of the tradition of the University of Kentucky basketball program, and there is strong alumni support in our region as well.” To be fair, Stumbo has since said he will seek to have the money repaid, once bonds are issued for the Rupp Arena project.
Stumbo also said the money did not jeopardize any projects in the mountains. That is a bit of a stretch, but it is technically true. The way coal severance funding works is that a portion goes to the individual counties, another portion is set aside for multi-county projects, a tiny piece is carved out for the state wood products industry, and on and on. And, of course, all that shuffling comes about after the state General Fund takes half off the top. The money that was tapped for Rupp Arena came from excess multi-county funds.
Still, when one considers that Floyd and many other coal counties each lost over a million dollars in single-county coal severance revenue, one would think that legislators could have made a one-time adjustment to the funding formula to use the multi-county surplus to plug a portion of the single-county shortfall.
They didn’t. Instead, they chose bread and circuses … minus the bread. It appears they didn’t think us poor, ignorant hillbillies would mind, as long as the money went to gussy-up the basketball palace.
So, the question is out there: What is Eastern Kentucky going to do about this?
If ever there was a moment that could serve to unite the region in pursuit of reform in economic development efforts, or the lack thereof, this is it. Will mountain residents seize this opportunity to at long last demand fair treatment? Or will they be content to accept more of the same?
— The Floyd County Times