What We Learned From The Candidates For Metro Council’s Highlands Seat Friday, Apr 29 2016 

The seven Democratic candidates vying for the District 8 seat on Louisville’s Metro Council don’t disagree on much.

They met for a debate Thursday night at the St. Paul Methodist Church on Douglass Boulevard in the Highlands, the neighborhood that makes up the district.

The event lasted about 90 minutes and drew nearly 300 people to the church’s gymnasium. Some stood in the back due to a lack of chairs, while others shivered to fight the cool of the blasting air conditioning.

This is the most crowded race for Metro Council in this primary election cycle. Longtime Councilman Tom Owen announced last year he wouldn’t seek reelection after serving for more than 20 years.

With no Republican registered, it’s likely the winner of the May 17 primary will take the seat in November.

Candidates spent a bulk of Thursday’s debate discussing broader issues the entire city wrestles with, like Mayor Greg Fischer’s push for a local option sales tax and the best way to improve the city’s public transit system — and all agreed there is room for improvement.

New Taxes To Fund Specific Projects

Stephen Reily, an entrepreneur and principal behind the West Louisville FoodPort, said he supports the effort to establish a local option sales tax for the state. He acknowledged the tax’s regressive nature but said it could help fund desired projects in Louisville.

“I don’t see any other tools right now that we can actually put to work,” he said.

Chris Kolb, a Spalding University professor, said he opposes any regressive tax.

“It hits low-income people harder, it hits working people harder,” he said. “It’s just fundamentally wrong to raise our revenue on the backs of low-income people.”

S. Brandon Coan, an attorney and former Fischer adviser, said he supports the tax, noting exemptions under the proposed tax are similar to those of sales tax.

“We can’t have things for free,” he said. “We need to generate more revenue.”

(Disclosure: Coan is a member of the Louisville Public Media board of directors.)

The debate in the Highlands on Thursday drew a crowd.

The debate in the Highlands on Thursday drew a crowd.

Josh White, an engineer, said he’s against any flat tax, pointing to the disproportionate impact such taxes have on low-income residents.

“I have no opposition for using taxes which possible disproportionately affect the wealthy,” he said. “That almost never happens.”

Lynnie Meyer, an executive at Norton Healthcare, said a local option sales tax would be “another tool in the toolbox” for funding desired projects like libraries and the expansion of Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville.

Terra Long, a retired police officer and current aide to Councilman Tom Owen, said the local option sales tax has little hope to gain approval from state legislators, who have passed it over during the last two legislative sessions.

“I do think it would be helpful, I just don’t see it coming our way,” she said.

Support For Improving Public Transit

The candidates were unanimous in their support for improving the city’s public transit system. Just how to do it, however, did not gain such consensus.

Charles Wooden, an employee at General Electric, said the city needs more frequent, direct routes to get people to their destinations more quickly. He did not elaborate on specifics about making such improvements.

Coan proposed consolidating the city’s bus service, TARC, and its parking service, PARC. He said such a move would allow TARC to boost efficiency and enable PARC to address neighborhood parking issues rather than “just writing parking tickets in our neighborhoods.”

“We can save a lot of money and we can also take some of that parking revenue, of which there is plenty, and flow it through the top line of TARC’s budget to increase the frequency of routes and the quality of bus shelters,” he said.

White dismissed Coan’s proposal, saying the loss of competition between the two entities would be a “bad thing.”

Reily said the key to boosting the city’s public transit service is to grow its job base. TARC is funded, in part, through occupational taxes, and Reily said with more jobs there’d be more money funneling into the bus system.

Meyer said to improve public transit, the city must increase residential density — one of the goals of Move Louisville, the Fischer administration’s recently released long-range transportation plan.

“You can’t just talk about investing in transportation, you also have to have complete street design and access to that transportation,” she said.

Kolb criticized Move Louisville, calling the plan “extremely problematic” for its lack of consideration for light rail and its promotion of policies that fail to combat sprawl.

“We have to promote light rail, not just for the moral and environmental consequences, so that we keep attracting good businesses,” he said.

Long praised the Move Louisville plan for its attention on “neighborhoods that need it the most.”

The Future Of Short-Term Rentals

The candidates also gave opinions on how the city should regulate short-term rentals, commonly found through online services such as Airbnb. The topic is something city legislators have wrestled with for months.

Coan said the capacity limits in the city’s current short-term rental proposal need to be reexamined.

“I don’t understand why you can have a person for every bed, plus four,” he said. “I would rather see a bed for every person to reduce the number of people to make it more reasonable.”

Kolb said he’s happy with how the council is looking to regulate short-term rentals.

“I think it was wise to prevent people from buying properties solely for the purpose of renting it out,” he said.

White compared short-term rentals to hotels and said they don’t belong in residential areas.

“We don’t have hotels zoning inside our residential neighborhoods for very good reasons,” he said.

Meyer floated the idea of limiting the number of rentals by month in a single unit.

Reily said the key to regulating short-term rentals is to ensure hosts and owners are accountable.

Other topics that gained unanimous support from the candidates included providing parental leave for city employees, the need to address the city’s incarceration and addiction issues, and the importance of combating its urban heat island.

Candidates also support humane treatment of wild animals in the city’s parks, a conversation spurred by the recent news of a coyote in Cherokee Park.

Ken Stammerman has lived in District 8 for about 22 years. He said making a choice from the seven candidates will be tough.

“You’ve got such a rich choice here,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment of riches, and that’s the problem.”

Heather Dearing is a District 8 resident and said each candidate seems committed to the district, but she’s looking for a candidate with a “vision for the entire city.”

“We don’t have a lot of criminal issues that we have to deal with, so I would have liked to hear what the bigger vision for the entire city of Louisville is, not just what they want to do for District 8.”

Bevin Vetoes Advocacy Program For Disabled People Thursday, Apr 28 2016 

Among Gov. Matt Bevin’s line-item vetoes in the state budget earlier this week was $400,000 that would have gone to the Arc of Kentucky, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The money was set aside to help fund the nonprofit’s leadership program, which trains people with disabilities and supporters in civic engagement.

Patty Dempsey, Arc of Kentucky’s executive director, said the $200,000 per year was in the budget to return the program to its original funding level.

“Without the funding, we are faced with that possibility of losing it,” Dempsey said.

Bevin vetoed all or part of 14 bills this legislative session, including several line-item vetoes to the $21 billion two-year state budget.

Arc of Kentucky’s Advocates in Action program trains up to 24 participants each year and pays for travel expenses to two events in Frankfort.

Participants have the opportunity to meet with state officials and advocate for legislative causes.

In his veto message, Bevin commended the nonprofit’s work, but he said they should look elsewhere for funding.

“While their work should be applauded, nonprofits are strongest when they are not dependent upon tax dollars for operations,” Bevin wrote. “We encourage Arc of Kentucky to continue to move forward with their passionate advocacy and focus their fundraising efforts on private sector and foundation support.”

Dempsey said the organization already gets money from the private sector and foundations.

“The reason the dollars were requested in the budget was to ensure stability of the program, because it is something we firmly believe in as a statewide advocacy organization,” she said.

According to the nonprofit’s IRS 990 report from 2013, the organization received $184,890 in government grants while bringing in $2,823 in membership dues and $5,008 in other contributions.

That year, Arc of Kentucky also raised $56,971 in additional revenue, including via fundraisers.

State Dedicates Workers To Cut Benefind Backlog Thursday, Apr 28 2016 

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is bringing 91 field workers from around the state to Frankfort to help deal with the backlog of applications in Benefind, the new umbrella portal for Kentucky’s welfare programs.

Since the February rollout of Benefind, people trying to get benefits have had to deal with long wait times at local Department for Community Based Services offices and over the phone. The system also erroneously sent out notices to some people that their benefits had been canceled.

Brandon Carlson, the project manager for the initiative, said the group had already processed more than 9,000 cases this week.

“By focusing our efforts here on those cases, we were able to free up our workers at all the local DCBS offices to address the lobby traffic and the high volume of calls and the new applications,” he said.

The cabinet estimates it now has a backlog of 16,000 cases, down from 30,000 at the beginning of the week.

Benefind was designed by consulting firm Deloitte and former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, and rolled out by Bevin’s new administration on Feb. 29. Bevin officials blame Beshear for the system’s problems and Beshear, in turn, has blamed Bevin for botching the rollout.

Chris Rogers, a DCBS worker from Grayson, said he saw firsthand what created the backlog.

“At first, just the processing and the speed of the cases was a little slower, it took us longer to go through the cases than normal,” he said.

Deloitte continues to work on Benefind under the new administration and has sent employees out to local DCBS offices to find glitches and train workers on the new system.

Kevin Pollari, a principal with Deloitte, said the firm has issued several fixes to the system.

“In the whole range of software development, this is one of the most complex systems you can imagine,” he said. “I think the most important thing is just getting everybody accustomed to the volume of work. It’s a combination of training people, system performance and everybody getting accustomed to it.

Workers at the Benefind office.Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

Workers at the Benefind office.

Benefind has also caused consternation for those applying for health insurance through Kynect, the state health exchange.

Last month, Bevin administration officials announced that some who had gotten insurance through Kynect had information that didn’t match up with figures imported into the Benefind system, triggering a review of 51,000 cases.

Kynectors — state contractors and volunteers tasked with helping Kentuckians navigate the health exchange — were unable to process many applications because federal law prevents them from dealing with benefits in Benefind like SNAP (food stamps) and TANF (cash assistance.

Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, secretary of the Health and Family Services Cabinet, said Kynectors — those who help customers navigate the Kynect system — might soon be able to process those applications. She said state officials recently discussed the problem with federal officials.

“We need the navigators,” Glisson said. “We welcome the use of navigators, we need as many hands on deck.”

Officials say most of the pending cases will be cleared by the second week of May.

Bobby Knight Steals The Show At Indiana Trump Rally Thursday, Apr 28 2016 

The star of the Donald Trump rally in Indianapolis Wednesday might not have been Trump. Rather, it was the rally’s special guest, former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, who stole the show.

Knight calls Trump “the most prepared man in history to step in as president.”

“They talk in a negative way when they want to about Donald and they talk about … he isn’t presidential. And I don’t know what the hell that means,” Knight says.

Trump barely mentioned Ted Cruz’s pick of Carly Fiorina as running mate. It was the candidate’s second campaign visit to the Hoosier State, one day after sweeping five presidential primaries in the northeast.

Trump’s speech at the State Fairgrounds lasted nearly an hour, and he spoke about Ted Cruz choosing a running mate for barely a minute. Trump mostly dismissed Cruz’s move.

“He is the first presidential candidate in the history of this country who’s mathematically eliminated from becoming president who chose a vice presidential candidate. It’s a record,” Trump says.

Trump will campaign in Southern Indiana Thursday, while Ted Cruz sweeps across the northern part of the state.

Watch video from the rally in the player above.

Bevin Vetoes 7 More Bills, Including Parts Of State Budget Wednesday, Apr 27 2016 

Gov. Matt Bevin has issued seven more vetoes, delaying a free community college scholarship program, cutting out parts of the state budget and killing a new driver’s license bill.

Bevin has now vetoed all or part of 14 bills in the wake of his first legislative session as governor.

“Today’s action will create economic opportunity and provide benefits to generations for years to come,” Bevin said in a statement.

In line-item vetoes of the state budget, Bevin eliminated funding for the first year of the “Work Ready” free community college tuition program. He also eliminated a bill that contained operating language for the program and other education initiatives, saying they were “hastily written.”

“Developing and implementing a properly functioning Work Ready Scholarship program will take a great deal of time and effort,” Bevin said.

Work Ready was a major ambition of Democrats, who fought to include it in the final compromise budget. Republicans fought for performance funding, which was included in the separate operating bill.

Since language for the initiatives is still included in the state budget bill, Bevin said the programs would be able to continue.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, was upset by the decision, saying it would “impact every high school student across Kentucky.”

“Students would have been able to attend college beginning this fall, tuition-free, and be ready to work upon graduation,” Stumbo said in a statement. “No forward-thinking governor would’ve acted in this way. It is a sad and unfortunate day for all of Kentucky.”

Bevin also vetoed a provision that would have expanded eligibility requirements for children attending pre-school programs to up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

“Mandated expansion of eligibility, however desirable, is not prudent in tight fiscal times,” he said.

Bevin vetoed parts of a bill that would have replenished lottery money used for the Work Ready program and a dual-credit program, saying lottery funds were appropriately used.

He also eliminated budget language that would have allowed the state to reopen three private prisons in case of overcrowding, saying that the state “shouldn’t limit its options in dealing with any potential state prison population challenges.”

Another line-item veto in the budget eliminated a $400,000 appropriation to ARC of Kentucky, which advocates for disabled people.

“While their work should be applauded, nonprofits are strongest when they are not dependent on tax dollars for operations,” Bevin said. “We encourage ARC of Kentucky to continue to move forward with their passionate advocacy and focus their fundraising efforts on private sector and foundation support.”

Bevin also vetoed bills that would have extended unemployment benefits to workers who leave a job to follow a spouse in the military, as well as the “Real ID” bill, which would have brought Kentucky’s driver’s licenses into compliance with federal law.

Bevin previously supported the Real ID bill but said “tremendous opposition and misunderstanding” of it calls for more discussion.

“We also owe the voters of Kentucky the ability to see what effect, if any, the next presidential administration will have on the issue,” Bevin wrote.

Bevin made several line-item vetoes to the Transportation Cabinet budget and eliminated some reporting requirements in the six-year road plan that he called “over-burdensome and redundant.”

Although lawmakers normally have an opportunity to override any vetoes the governor makes with majority votes in both chambers, they ran out of time in the legislative session this year.

Down-home hate from a Kentucky Republican Wednesday, Apr 27 2016 

By BERRY CRAIG Mike Pape is one Republican candidate who has evidently sworn off dog whistle politics. The congressional hopeful from Kentucky has deep-sixed the coded words and is pandering, flat-out, to racism and xenophobia. His inaugural TV ad shows … Continue reading →

The post Down-home hate from a Kentucky Republican appeared first on Hillbilly Report.

Former Gov. Beshear Alleges Corruption In Bevin Administration Wednesday, Apr 27 2016 

Former Gov. Steve Beshear has accused Gov. Matt Bevin of coercing state employees into helping pay off his campaign debt.

The allegations come a week after Bevin claimed that members of Beshear’s administration coerced state employees into making campaign contributions to Democrats.

Beshear said Bevin “started this food fight.”

“… By calling us liars, by criticizing my wife, and now by ginning up a political investigation to try and sully our reputation,” he said.

The feud extends back to when Bevin criticized Beshear’s appointment of then-First Lady Jane Beshear to the Kentucky Horse Park Commission.

Since then, the two governors have lobbed accusations at one another. Bevin has blamed Beshear for leaving the state in a “financial crisis,” creating the glitches in the new health benefit portal Benefind and shaking down state employees for campaign contributions.

Beshear has spent the months after his term ended accusing Bevin of botching the rollout of Benefind and criticizing the new governor’s plans to dismantle the state health exchange, Kynect, and roll back the Medicaid expansion.

On Wednesday, Beshear said Bevin is using accusations to distract from the “catastrophic” Benefind rollout and, in turn, flipped the coercion accusations back at the new governor.

“State employees are being told that they will have a better chance of keeping their jobs if they donate to help Mr. Bevin retire his large personal campaign debt,” he said. “Folks, if that’s true, this would amount to a sitting governor selling state government to the highest bidder and putting the money in his own pocket.”

Bevin loaned his campaign $1.57 million in his successful race for governor; the campaign is allowed to raise funds to repay the loan.

Beshear also accused Bevin of strong-arming Democratic lawmakers into switching parties.

“He demanded that Democratic legislators switch parties and threatened to cancel road projects in their districts if they didn’t comply,” Beshear said. “When they refused, he said he’ll ‘destroy them.’ Folks, I understand that the FBI may be looking into that kind of conduct.”

Two Democratic lawmakers switched to the Republican Party in the wake of Bevin’s election and two others resigned after they were appointed to new lucrative jobs by the governor.

Last week, Bevin announced he was launching a corruption investigation of Beshear’s administration. That day, Beshear’s former personnel secretary, Tim Longmeyer, pleaded guilty to taking about $200,000 in bribes in exchange for funneling state business to a consulting firm.

Bevin’s communications director, Jessica Ditto, said Wednesday’s remarks show that Beshear “is merely trying to protect what is left of his legacy.”

“Every wild, baseless accusation he has attempted to levy is not corroborated by any facts whatsoever,” she said.

Ditto said Bevin “will let the investigation take its course.”

Beshear said it “blew his mind” when he found out Longmeyer was under investigation, saying he had no idea of the criminal activity.

“Obviously, if we had any inkling of his criminal actions, he would have been fired on the spot,” he said.

County Officials, Jailers Ask Bevin To Veto Private Prisons Provision Wednesday, Apr 27 2016 

County officials have asked Gov. Matt Bevin to veto language in the state budget bill that would allow three private prisons to reopen in Kentucky.

The budget language would allow the state to recommission private prison contracts in Floyd, Marion and Lee counties if those counties’ jails become overpopulated.

The state already pays county jails to incarcerate some inmates who would otherwise go to state penitentiaries.

Renee Craddock, executive director of the Kentucky Jailers Association, said the private prison policy would shift that money away from counties.

“They are pulling revenue from counties at a time when counties don’t have a lot of revenue to spare,” she said.

Representatives from the Kentucky Jailers Association, the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky Judge/Executives Association and the Kentucky Association of Magistrates and Commissioners sent a joint letter to Bevin recently asking him to use his line-item veto power to excise the provision from the final budget bill.

The group estimates that it currently costs the state about $35 per day to house inmates in county jails versus $55 per day in private institutions.

The three prisons proposed to reopen are owned by Corrections Corporation of America, with which the state phased out contracts between 2010 and 2013 amid allegations of mismanagement at the institutions.

Otter Creek Correctional Center, located in Wheelwright (in Floyd County) and owned by CCA, closed after widespread reports of sexual abuse forced the state to transfer female inmates out of the institution.

In the letter, the associations say private prisons have already been given a chance to operate in Kentucky “and they failed to operate safely and in a fiscally sound manner.”

Craddock said the current budget language “ties the state’s hands” from bidding out a private prison contract to other companies.

“It is a contract to one company, and it doesn’t allow them to competitively bid the contract,” she said.

The private prison language was added in the state House of Representatives’ proposed version of the budget. In an email Tuesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo defended the provision.

“We added this language in the House to give the state another option to avoid overcrowding issues that could lead to court action,” he said.

Stumbo also argued for protecting a plan in the budget that would parole infirm or aging state inmates and put them into long-term care facilities.

“I believe this language should remain as-is in the budget, because it is important that our corrections system have this added flexibility,” he said.

Kentucky typically houses Class C and Class D felons in county jails around the state.

According to the state’s most recent weekly jail population report, 62 of the state’s 128 county jails are overcrowded, ranging from with 237 beds needed at the Jefferson County Detention Center to 145 beds in Laurel County and 135 beds in Pulaski County.

Kentucky has 120 counties, and more than 40 of them do not have jails despite having elected jailers, according to a report by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. The 128 reported by the state also include ancillary facilities, and some counties report more than one facility.

State inmates account for only a portion of those occupying county jails. Also included are those in “controlled intake” — offenders en route to prison or to local programs — and those convicted of misdemeanors.

Louisville Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton said he supports increasing the state’s prison capacity, even if it means turning to the private prison industry.

Earlier this week, Bolton announced the Louisville jail was overcrowded, and that he had been forced to house inmates in an aging facility that does not meet fire suppression standards.

“Those beds are full, there’s just nowhere to send them, that’s what’s creating this bottleneck,” Bolton said. “It’s all about there’s not enough capacity in the state to handle the load. However the state can assist in adding capacity, that’s what I’m supporting.”

The deadline for Bevin to veto part or all of the state budget is Wednesday.

Reporter R.G. Dunlop of WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting contributed to this story. 

Bernie Sanders Surging In Kentucky’s Donation Dollars Tuesday, Apr 26 2016 

For the third month in a row, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders raised more money in Kentucky than any of the other presidential candidates — and his Bluegrass cash flow is accelerating.

According to the latest data from the Federal Election Commission, Sanders raised $126,639 from Kentucky donors in March, more than the combined receipts of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Together they received $119,369.

Sanders’ Kentucky contributions overall still trail Clinton’s by about $92,000, but he is making up ground fast. As of Dec. 31, his Kentucky intake was only 28 percent of Clinton’s. As of March 31, it was 79 percent. He has outraised the three remaining Republican candidates in Kentucky $352,236 to $343,325.

“I think Kentucky is especially engaged in a way that I haven’t seen in a couple of the other states that I’ve been in,” said Kass Bessert, director of the Sanders campaign in Kentucky. “We’re seeing people get involved in politics who have never felt empowered or involved to this extent.”

election imageSanders’ odds, however, remain long, and pollsters give him little chance to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton is 80 percent of the way to obtaining the delegates needed for the nomination, NPR reported.

Before his defeat to Clinton in the New York primary last Tuesday, he had defeated her in seven straight states, mostly in the West. The $182.1 million he has raised nationally is slightly ahead of Clinton’s haul, according to FEC data.

As he is nationally, Sanders is receiving large numbers of small contributions from Kentuckians.

“The national average is still right at $27, and I believe that continues to ring consistent in Kentucky,” Bessert said. “We see a younger demographic, so a fairly large proportion of the Kentucky demographic who are donating are under the age of 35 and still a significant amount are under the age of 24.”

Kentucky’s Democratic primary doesn’t take place until May 17. Today will be pivotal for the Sanders and Clinton campaigns as primary voters go to the polls in five states — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware. Clinton holds a 1,446-to-1,200 lead over Sanders in pledged delegates, and the 462 delegates up for grabs in those five states could widen or close the gap.

In Kentucky, 56 percent of contributions for the 2016 presidential race have gone to Republican candidates. The bulk of that money, though, changed hands last year when the field was wide open with 13 candidates — including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who remains the leading Republican fundraiser in the state well after dropping out of the race.

Kentucky donations to Democratic candidates began to surpass those to Republicans in January. In March, Democrats outraised Republicans in Kentucky by two and a half times, thanks mostly to Sanders.

Reporter James McNair can be reached at jmcnair@kycir.org and (502) 814.6543.

This story was reported by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Wednesday Is Last Day For Bevin To Veto Or Sign Budget Tuesday, Apr 26 2016 

Wednesday is the last day for Gov. Matt Bevin to veto all or part of bills that passed on the final day of the legislative session, including the state budget.

Bevin’s spokeswoman Jessica Ditto declined to comment on possible vetoes, saying “everything will be filed accordingly” on Wednesday.

Bevin has already vetoed seven bills, including portions of the Judicial Branch operating budget.

Lawmakers will not have an opportunity to override any potential vetoes since they pushed the legislative session up to its constitutionally-required deadline of April 15.

Lawmakers arrived at a budget compromise that cuts most state spending by 9 percent over the next two years and puts $1.2 billion into the state’s pension systems.

Kentucky governors are allowed to line-item veto parts of bills, meaning Bevin could eliminate parts of the budget while leaving the rest of the document intact.

After weeks of stop-and-start negotiations, legislators agreed to exempt state colleges and universities from 4.5 percent of the cuts and fund a $25 million free community college scholarship program.

The budget also includes a provision that would allow three private prisons in the state to reopen. County officials have requested that Bevin veto the language, saying that it would shift money away from local coffers.

Other legislation that passed on the last day includes a “revenue bill” that would let Lexington raise its hotel room tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent to pay off bonds to expand its convention center.

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