Appalachian Transition is devoted to ideas for a more just, sustainable and prosperous future in Central Appalachia. We are at a critical moment in our region. The time has arrived to talk about the coming transition of our economy, workforce and communities. This site is a resource for that conversation.

Appalachian Transition Blog

Where Should Coal Severance Money Go?

Two Eastern Kentucky legislators have pre-filed a bill in Frankfort that would send all coal severance funds back to coal-producing counties. Eastern Kentucky local governments have been seriously struggling to get by as the coal industry declines in the region, so this money would mean a lot. Currently, half of severance revenues go into the state's General Fund, with the other half going back to coal counties in a rather convoluted path through multiple funds with different allocations and stipulations for use. Though plugging holes in county budgets wasn't the intention for the severance tax, it's increasingly been used that way as shortfalls have grown larger. (At the same time, severance revenues from Western Kentucky have increased as the coal industry there is growing.) According to a report from news outlet cn2:

Many counties where coal is mined and transported have come to rely on severance funds to pay for its public services like trash pickup and operating water and waste treatment plants and even paying the utility bills for county courthouses.

Letcher County Judge Executive Jim Ward told lawmakers that effect of the severance tax decline on his county has been tremendous.

“We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to keep services up just to the general public,” Ward said.

So it's not surprising that Rep. Leslie Combs, from Pikeville, and Rep. Fitz Steele, from Hazard, would propose such a bill. Shouldn't coal counties get the severance taxes they've earned, especially when they are suffering financially? On the other hand, the state General Fund provides critical social services that benefit eastern Kentucky, along with the rest of the state. Child care assistance, higher education and mental and public health programs have seen steep budget cuts already. Losing coal severance funds, which last fiscal year amounted to over $100 million, would only exacerbate our already precarious budget situation. 

It's a question without an easy answer, and the bill's chances of passage are slim. But it's a conversation well worth having. 

East KY Entrepreneurs Build Businesses with Training Classes

Starting a business is much more than just a great idea. Business plans, marketing, access to capital, insurance, taxes, budgeting and finances - these things can be daunting for any entrepreneur, but for those in rural areas, entrepreneurial training can be hard to access. Our friends at Making Connections have a great story on how two entrepreneurs from Southeast Kentucky are using training from the Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation (SKED) to build their businesses:

What do an eastern Kentucky bee-keeper and a paintball entrepreneur have in common? Well, they’re both small business owners! And on a sunny evening in mid May, just outside of downtown Hindman, these two came together with others to learn more about how to make their ventures a financial success. The evening marked the first of four sessions for a course titled “Entrepreneurial Smarts.” Sponsored by the Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation (SKED), with support from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the class is being held at different locations throughout eastern Kentucky to help people get their business ideas off the ground.  Anyone is eligible and the total fee for the program is $25, which covers all the sessions, class materials and food. For more information visit www.southeastkentucky.com.

Listen to the report here

Multimedia documentary project looks at Appalachia 50 years after "War on Poverty"

It's been 50 years since the "War on Poverty" was declared from an Appalachian front porch - how far have we come? How much farther do we have to go, and where, exactly, is our destination? Journalist Ralph B. Davis asks these questions of many prominent Appalachians in his new documentary "Appalachia 2050." 

‘Appalachia 2050′ is an effort find solutions to the region’s historic economic troubles and related problems. The project will interview leaders in a wide variety of fields to get their opinions on what must be done to lead the region to a successful future by the year 2050, as well as what a successful future might look like (e.g., Does success mean Appalachia should look like the rest of America, or does it mean something different that harnesses the unique culture of the region?).

While the modern mythology of Appalachia has prompted many journalists and filmmakers to explore the region’s historic problems with poverty, nearly every popular account of Appalachia has been undertaken by outsiders who focus their attention on the most glaring examples, rather than on the norm. As a result, residents of the region often bristle over what are perceived as slanted and stereotypical depictions of mountain residents as dirt-poor, uneducated, uncouth, potentially violent hillbillies. ‘Appalachia 2050′ will be unique as it will seek to obtain an honest and unflinching appraisal of where the region is economically, where it needs to go, and how it will get there, from those who live, work and lead their professions from within the region.

Coal Severance Controversy

Coal severance has been in the news quite a bit lately, raising questions about how it’s being used and who is benefiting. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Kentucky would be using $2.5 million in coal severance dollars to fund the renovation of the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, despite the fact that Lexington produces no coal nor is it even in Appalachia. A public outcry led one coalfield senator who supported the expenditure to issue an op-ed explaining his decision, stating that a reworking of how the severance tax is allocated means that more money overall is going back to coalfield counties, so the $2.5 million was a “surplus.” (How there can be a "surplus" of funds when so many coalfield counties are just barely scraping by is a good question.)

The whole incident spurred some great commentary about who gets coal severance taxes and how they’re spent. “Has Eastern Kentucky had enough yet?” asked an editorial in the Hazard Herald, decrying the “outright theft” of badly-needed funds. The Lexington Herald-Leader called out some other questionable expenditures of severance tax funds – including Little League and football teams, as well as day-to-day county budget expenditures for which severance funds are supposed to be off-limits – and asked a bigger question: “Why is the potential for an economic reboot being squandered? And what would it take to spark reform?”

Video: Bringing Main Street Back

We're sharing with you today a video from MACED featuring a young entrepreneur from Hazard, KY. After moving home after college, Jennifer Noble felt like "an outsider," so she opened the Treehouse Cafe and Bakery as a place for folks to gather, promote the arts and share a healthy meal. "I hoped from the beginning that maybe opening a businesse of my own would inspire other people who had dreams of becoming what they want to be, that they can do it too," says Jennifer in the video. "If I can do it, anybody can do it.... You just have to do what makes you happy!"

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