The Complicated Question of Coal

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

I concluded yesterday’s Kentucky Tonight conversation on coal and energy policy with a question I borrowed from a column Al Cross wrote for the Courier-Journal entitled “Blowing Smoke on Coal’s Future.” (You’ll have to read the piece to discover who Cross thinks is the smoke-blower.)

In his first paragraph, Cross writes, “Politics keeps complicating efforts to diversify the economy of Appalachian Kentucky, especially the eastern-coalfield counties that have seen nearly half their jobs disappear in the last two years.”

So the question I asked our Kentucky Tonight panel was this: Is coal complicating the U.S. Senate race?

Do we know today or will we know on November 5, the day after the election, just how big the coal issue has been this campaign season? One of our guests, Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett, said it is the number one political issue this year.

Polling indicates that about 10 percent of voters remain undecided in the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. But when the Bluegrass Poll asked respondents which candidate they trusted more to strike a good balance between protecting coal industry jobs and preserving the environmental from the effects of burning coal, those who say they’re undecided jumps to 18 percent.

So, how big is the coal question? Here’s is what our panelists had to say Monday night. In addition to Bissett, our guests were Sarah Lynn Cunningham, an environmental engineer, educator, and director of the Louisville Climate Action Network; Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council; and Steve Gardner, president and CEO of ECSI and president-elect of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration.

Watch the full Kentucky Tonight discussion or read the recap.

Would Increasing the Minimum Wage Hurt or Benefit Kentuckians?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Legislation to boost the minimum wage has been proposed in Frankfort and Washington, and the issue is part of the discussion in this year’s U.S. Senate race between Alison Lundergan Grimes and Sen. Mitch McConnell.

The panel on Monday’s Kentucky Tonight joined the debate on the minimum wage as they explored how an increase could affect workers and business-owners in the commonwealth. The guests were Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy; Malcolm Robinson, economics professor at Thomas More College; and Brian Strow, economics professor at Western Kentucky University; and Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kentucky’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage is equal to or lower than the wage rates for our neighboring states. Indiana and Virginia are also at $7.25. West Virginia is at that rate as well, but its minimum is set to increase to $8 per hour at the end of the year. In contrast, Illinois has a minimum of $8.25 per hour, while Tennessee has no minimum wage.

In the 2014 legislative session, Kentucky House Democrats proposed increasing the state minimum to $10.10 per hour over a three-year period. House Bill 1 passed the lower chamber of the General Assembly 54-44, but died in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Kentucky proposal mirrors legislation promoted by Congressional Democrats to increase the federal minimum wage in the same fashion.

Here’s how the Kentucky Tonight guests viewed the potential benefits to low-wage workers and the possible impacts to unemployment in the state.

Jason Bailey says the income disparity between minimum-wage workers and corporate executives is not only unfair, but also incurs other costs to society: More people require public assistance, fewer people can afford educational training that would help them secure better jobs, and there is less consumer spending rippling through the economy. The result, Bailey contends, is lower financial mobility for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Kentucky House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) has argued that increasing the state minimum to $10.10 per hour would put the commonwealth at a distinct competitive disadvantage with surrounding states. Economist Brian Strow agrees, saying Kentucky would be the poster child for a state were a minimum wage increase would do the most damage because of our already high unemployment rate and low median incomes.

Watch the full Kentucky Tonight discussion.

This post was written by KET public affairs reporter John Gregory.

There’s More to Sen. Rand Paul’s Word Association Game

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

When Bill Goodman interviewed Sen. Rand Paul in Louisville several weeks ago, he concluded their conversation with a word association game. Goodman would mention names of prominent politicians and the senator would say the first words that came to his mind about those individuals.

That three-minute segment has since gotten national attention, thanks to mentions in the Washington Post, Business Insider, CNN, and the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Bluegrass Politics blog. Much of this coverage has focused on Paul’s pithy descriptions of potential opponents in the 2016 presidential election.

But Paul also had some nice things to say about Sen. Cory Booker. The New Jersey Democrat and Kentucky Republican are sponsoring legislation called the REDEEM Act, which proposes a series of criminal justice reforms, including provisions to make it easier for nonviolent juvenile offenders to expunge their criminal records, and allow certain low-level drug criminals to still receive food stamps and other welfare benefits. The legislation is an attempt to roll-back what Booker and Paul see as some of the most punitive and discriminatory aspects of the war on drugs.

This partnership between the two freshmen senators has led the Beltway media to label them “Washington’s newest odd couple.”

Here’s the full video clip from One to One in which Paul offers his thoughts about Booker and how politicians who otherwise disagree on most policies can work together on specific issues on which they do agree.

Watch the full interview with Sen. Paul or read a recap.

This post was written by KET public affairs reporter John Gregory.

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