#HiddenNoMore: International Women Leaders In STEM Visit Louisville Wednesday, Oct 18 2017 

The back room of Fante’s Coffee on Grinstead Drive had an international flair on Tuesday morning. Women scientists, engineers, and mathematicians from Israel, Kazakhstan, Italy and more gathered over coffee as part of the program “Hidden No More: Empowering Women Leaders in STEM.

Omowunmi Hassan from Nigeria has run a tech center for women and girls there for the past 14 years. She said STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — offers an opportunity to use intelligence to change your community.

“STEM is not an issue of color,” said Hassan. “STEM is an issue of what you know and what you can give to your community.”

Omowumni HassanRoxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Omowunmi Hassan

Besides working in STEM, the women at the coffee hour had another thing in common: they’ve all seen the film “Hidden Figures.”

The 2016 Academy Award-nominated film highlighted three black women mathematicians at NASA who were instrumental during the U.S. space program in the 1960s. The movie was based on the book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win The Space Race,” written by Margot Lee Shetterly.

The film earned more than $230 million worldwide and was so popular across the globe that U.S. embassies requested screenings of the film.

And that inspired the State Department to create the Hidden No More exchange program, where nearly 50 women from across the world are visiting the United States this month. The group met in Washington and is traveling in subgroups in different parts of the country.

Thoai Huyen Le was also an attendee at the coffee hour, hosted by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Le is a scientist in Vietnam and said watching “Hidden Figures” can help women and girls unlock their power.

“I want to open a chance to our female scientists in our country to see this movie,” she said.  

But many countries, including the United States, have a long way to go when it comes to women in STEM. In the U.S. women obtain only 35 percent of their undergraduate degrees in STEM.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average wage of all STEM occupations was approximately $87,000.

Funding For The Butchertown Soccer Stadium, Explained Monday, Oct 16 2017 

Louisville Metro Council is expected to vote next week on whether to issue $30 million in municipal bonds to buy 15 acres of land in the city’s Butchertown neighborhood.

The plan is for the city to buy the land, then give it to the Louisville City Football Club. The pro soccer team would build a $50 million stadium, as well as develop the remaining parcels with retail and hotels. The entire project is expected to cost $200 million.

Many of the details of the deal are laid out here, but unless you’re a bonding expert, you may not completely understand the proposal.

What is a municipal bond?

There are a few ways a city can raise money to pay for capital projects.

One way is a one-time tax increase, but this is problematic. It creates an equity problem, and also can be politically unpopular because residents today are paying for a project that future residents would benefit from without paying the initial tax.

Instead, many cities use municipal bonds for major projects.

“A bond is a form of debt; an IOU, a loan,” said Michael Anthony Campbell, an assistant professor at Tennessee State University. “It has some degree of interest associated with it.”

Municipal bonds are used to raise money for city projects like water treatment facilities, jails, schools or bridges. The city borrows the money from investors and promises to pay those investors back over time with interest.

“The overwhelming majority, maybe not in raw dollars, but the number of municipal bonds being issued are for public good issues,” Campbell said. “Local governments are issuing bonds all the time for small, medium, large projects that fall under the classification of the much more traditional public good.”

Municipal bonds are classified into two types: revenue bonds and general obligation bonds. Revenue bonds guarantee investors will get their money back through revenue generated from a project. General obligation bonds guarantee investors will get their money back through the city’s power to tax. The measure being considered to buy the land for Louisville’s soccer stadium would be a general obligation bond.

Why should I care?

Because your tax dollars will ultimately be used to pay off the bonds.

Janet Kelly, executive director of the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville said in Louisville, the main taxes that could potentially be raised to pay off bonds are property and occupational — or payroll — taxes.

If that’s the case, Louisvillians would want to make sure this investment is good for the city, which is why many are paying attention to the economic impact study of the stadium.

And in some cases, economic studies on sports arenas can overestimate the benefit to the city and public, including overstating the number of jobs that would be created or retail sales that would be generated.

The city says having the stadium is a key investment that will allow Louisville to compete for a Major League Soccer franchise. Other advantages, the city says, include more than 1,400 construction jobs as well as more than 1,700 jobs after the project’s completion.

So what are we really talking about when we talk about bonds?

“I think part of the underlying discussion here is what do we want our government spending money on,” Campbell said.

The proposed development uses public dollars for private investment, which is different from more straight-forward bonds that are used for infrastructure or school projects.

Some believe that the use of public dollars to stimulate the private sector benefits everyone; it’s a public good.

Proponents of the project say the initial stadium development will spur others in the area, like retail, restaurants and hotels. The city says the development would also get rid of a brownfield and bring more people to the Butchertown neighborhood, as well as nearby Big Four Bridge and the soon-to-be-built Botanical Gardens. There’s also an intangible benefit in appeasing a sports team: civic pride.

But others believe that in similar situations, cities and taxpayers often never really get those initial investments back. And they say those tax dollars could be put to better use.

“There’s so many things we need in our cities besides stadiums,” said Art Rolnick, senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. “We got limited dollars; you can only tax so much…and you have to ask what’s the best public investment.”

Rolnick said he thinks money could be better used for basics like roads, lighting, health and education.

“That’s what makes great cities and great economies,” he said. “Get the public goods right.”

How could this deal go wrong?

The deal presented to Louisville’s Metro Council lays out the terms: Louisville Metro Government, with the help of $30 million in bonds, will buy the land in Butchertown and make some improvements. The soccer team, Louisville City Football Club, would be responsible for the cost of building the 10,000-seat stadium. The soccer club would also pay $14.5 million back to the city over 20 years for the cost of the land. Louisville Metro won’t own the stadium.

The city says the amount of public money in the deal is capped at $30 million — Louisville City FC will be responsible for any cost overruns. And if the team doesn’t end up building a stadium, it can either buy the land from Louisville, or the city can seek other development opportunities.

But Janet Kelly of U of L’s Urban Studies Institute said one possible outcome is that the stadium is built — but it doesn’t generate the expected economic boom for the area.

“We could be sitting on a piece of land with a soccer stadium on it that is underutilized and we’re pretty much stuck with it because it would be very difficult to transition that to another more effective use,” she said.

There’s also the possibility that Louisville gets its professional soccer stadium, but doesn’t get a bid to join the major leagues. There are other cities, such as San Antonio and Cincinnati, that are better positioned to snag a professional team. It’s also an unknown if soccer will be popular enough in the coming decades to bank on its future, or whether the team will even stay in Louisville.

Whether you love sports, hate sports or are indifferent, Louisville taxpayers would ultimately be responsible for paying for the initial investment in this proposed Butchertown development. Kelly said this is why the public has a right to review the city’s investment of the land for the soccer stadium — because it is ultimately the public that would be responsible for future payments.

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

Trying Times For Transit: Rural Systems Face Flat Funding, Rising Demand Monday, Oct 16 2017 

Thelma Daulton goes to the salon to get her hair done at the same time every Friday. She gets picked up at her house and greeted by one of many familiar faces from the Rural Transit Enterprises, Coordinated, or RTEC.

Daulton is 95 years old and has been riding the public transit system in Somerset, Kentucky, for about 15 years. Daulton said her daughter would like for her to move closer to Bowling Green, but Daulton likes her community and has no intention of leaving.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Thelma Daulton in her regular salon in Somerset Kentucky.

“I want to stay here. I want to be in my own home, if I can, as long as I live,” Daulton said.

Daulton is just one of many seniors in small towns and rural areas who want to age in place and remain connected to their community. Access to transit helps make that possible. But the RTEC is not just the only transit system in Somerset, it’s the only one for the 12 surrounding counties.

Mary Denny has been driving for RTEC for 5 years. She said many people in her community would be stranded or home bound without the service, not just seniors.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“It doesn’t just pertain to just elderly. We have anywhere from young individuals that’s struggling, low income, that’s struggling to make ends meet that we’re able to help and assist,” Denny said.

Compared to national averages, the Ohio Valley has a higher percentage of senior citizens, people with disabilities, and people living on low incomes — all groups likely to depend on transit. And a great number of them live in rural areas and small towns. Public transportation can make it possible to keep a job, reach a doctor, or just get your hair done. But transit experts in the region worry that funding is not keeping pace with demand.

Falling Behind

Juva Barber is the Executive Director of Kentuckians for Better Transportation, a statewide association advocating for all modes of transportation. Barber said in 2020 Kentucky will need $10 million from the general fund just to keep services as they are now, not including any improvements.

Juva BarberKentuckians for Better Transportation

Juva Barber of Kentuckians for Better Transportation.

“We have to do something because if we don’t do something we fall farther and farther behind.” Barber said, adding that the effects can be felt far beyond just those who ride the bus.

“When you’re looking for a workforce, if that workforce can’t get there that puts you further down on the list when it comes to site selection so that impacts economic development,” she said.

Barber said there needs to be increased investment in infrastructure. No pothole will repair itself and no bus will avoid a trip to the maintenance garage.

Charles Rutkowski is with Community Transportation Association of America, a national organization that works with rural transit systems. He said every patient, customer and student represents income, revenue, and economic development for that health care institution or college. He adds for every $1 invested in transit there’s a benefit of $3.50 to that community.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“It provides jobs on a very basic level. It provides jobs for bus drivers, bus mechanics, dispatchers, schedulers, managers etc.,” Rutkowski said. “But it also transports a lot of local folks to jobs. And some of those individuals probably could not access those jobs were it not for the existence of public transit.”

Rutkowski said providing access to public transportation helps some lower income individuals break out of the cycle of poverty. He said it also enables seniors such as Thelma Daulton to live in their own homes and retain their independence, which often costs less than an assisted living facility.

Rural Challenges

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

A new report from the American Public Transportation Association lays out some of the numbers behind transit’s impact on rural communities.

The APTA found that while rural population is declining, ridership in rural areas has increased over the past 8 years. In fact, rural ridership grew far faster than did public transit demand in cities (when measured on a per capita basis).

The rural demand is largely due to older residents, people living on low incomes, and people with disabilities. Older folks make up a larger portion of rural communities than in urban areas, and rural poverty rates are higher than urban poverty rates across the country. That difference is especially high in the south.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Mary Denny helps Thelma Daulton aboard.

The report includes a map showing the convergence of all three of these factors in the Ohio Valley region. Kentucky, West Virginia, and southeastern Ohio have high percentages of seniors who are both underprivileged and living with a disability. In many counties in the region 15 percent or more of the population fits this description. The U.S. average is about 10 percent.

And yet, the APTA found that per-capita spending on rural public transit spending is lower than in urban areas.

‘Homebound without us’

Kirt Conrad is the CEO of Stark Area Regional Transit Authority in Canton, Ohio. He said the state has supported the public transit system but the needs are outgrowing what has historically been provided.

“Every two years we have to go back to the general assembly and set those funding marks. We have no guaranteed funding sources for transit at the state level,” Conrad said.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

A Bowling Green resident with her child on the bus.

Conrad said lower income people who rely on public transit often have no slack resources, and if they’re relying on transit services to get them to work the service has to be reliable. Conrad said they also transport about 170,000 people a year who qualify for public assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We go to their house and take them to either work, school, or the doctor’s appointment. Without us those 170,000 people would be homebound,” Conrad said.

‘Opens your eyes’

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Bowling Green Resident Scott Henry never expected to rely on transit.

Bowling Green, Kentucky, resident Scott Henry never expected to need a service like that.

“Being a healthy person all my life I never ever thought I’d be in a situation where I’d have to count on para-transit transportation to get back and forth to work every day,” Henry said.

But about a year ago Henry’s knee collapsed, became infected and he wasn’t able to get a knee replacement. He’s been unable to drive since.

“It opens your eyes if you don’t have something like that. You can’t do your job, you can’t go to the doctor, you can’t get groceries,” Henry said. “You can’t do anything and living alone I had no one to help me.”

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Henry said arranging private transportation can cost about $200 a day. He’s had to cancel doctor’s appointments and even surgeries because he couldn’t get a vehicle to the hospital. Then he learned he was in the right area to use the city’s transit, BG Go. That gave him some motivation.

“So when I got that spark then it was like, I was going to do this today, I was going to do that today. I was going to get up today. I was going to do this by myself today,” he said. “I was going to get dressed like I was going to work today, and so that really did it. Without this I couldn’t be here today.”

Experts Question Economic Analysis Behind Butchertown Soccer Stadium Wednesday, Oct 11 2017 

The decision earlier this week to delay a vote on a financing piece of a planned soccer stadium development in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood will likely make time for skeptical city leaders to scrutinize the deal.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a news release Tuesday the postponement would “give the Metro Council additional time for review.”

Some of those questions will likely focus on the legitimacy of an economic impact study submitted to the council last week. The study was paid for by the soccer team and says the project would bring millions in added tax revenue and thousands of jobs.

But some experts say the predictions are unrealistic.

And others question the study’s integrity because it was completed by a company with close ties to city officials. That company could also stand to benefit if the development goes through.

Frank Scott, an economics professor at the University of Kentucky, suggested the relationship could pose a conflict of interest.

“That might call into question the credibility of the research purporting to justify spending public money on this project,” he said.

Councilman Kevin Kramer said it’s these types of issues that concern him about the project.

“There’s something there that someone doesn’t want us to find,” he said. “I just don’t know what it is.”

Substantial Economic Benefits — At Least On Paper

City officials, soccer team executives and fans have clamored for a dedicated soccer stadium for two years.

The team — Louisville City FC — plays in the United Soccer League, a second-professional league behind Major League Soccer. They play home games at Louisville Slugger field, but soccer executives claim the agreement to play there is not sustainable.

Mike Mountjoy, one of the team’s owners, told a Metro Council committee earlier this month the team “lose[s] money every time we play.”

To remedy this, team officials have lobbied for a soccer-specific stadium since they began playing in Louisville.

And now, that project is close to being reality. Fischer announced last month he’d commit $30 million in city funds to purchase the land needed for the stadium and prep the site for construction.

The plan calls for a 15-acre soccer stadium in Butchertown near Interstate 64, as well as retail, office space and a hotel. In all, the project is expected to cost about $200 million, according the development plan submitted to Metro Council.

And on paper, the overall economic benefit to the city is substantial.

An analysis prepared by Commonwealth Economics in September and presented to the council earlier this month found the stadium project could support more than 2,400 “statewide jobs” each year once complete.

In addition, the project would yield about $1.8 billion in labor income and more than $260 million in added state and local tax revenue in a 20-year period, according to the study.

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, who is sponsoring the legislation to advance the stadium development, praised these figures and called the project a “no-brainer.”

“I’m very interested in the jobs,” she said. “I’m very interested in the tax revenue.”

But experts in stadium development question the projections.

Holy Cross College economics professor Victor Matheson said he’s not surprised the impact analysis presented a rosy outlook.

“Because I expect for-profit sports team owners to generate absurdly high economic estimate numbers in order to con gullible city council members into granting subsidies,” he said.

Matheson, who is also associate editor of the Journal of Sports Economics, said the 20-year revenue projections likely rely on the ability of the team and its ownership to foster a Major League Soccer franchise in the coming years.

“But that is a long-shot for Louisville,” Matheson said, even with a brand-new soccer stadium. He noted that other cities like Cincinnati, Sacramento and San Antonio are better poised to attract a major league club.

Regardless of whether Louisville ends up landing an MLS franchise, it’s important to note these types of economic impact studies are difficult to get right, said Chris Bollinger, the director of the center of business and economic research at the University of Kentucky.

Bollinger said researchers in this particular study are relying on certain assumptions to ensure their revenues projections are realized — like taking for granted that the popularity of soccer will remain steady, or even grow.

“Which is tenuous,” he said.

Bollinger said researchers also assume the team will stay in Louisville for 20 years, which isn’t guaranteed.

Another key question is where the promised stadium revenue is coming from.

Bollinger said for revenues to grow in one area of town, they’ll likely drag in another. For instance, if people are spending more money at soccer games, they’re not spending money somewhere else.

“All you’re doing is moving money from one part of Louisville to another part of Louisville,” he said.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said city leaders are confident in the projections offered by Commonwealth Economics.

Casey Bolton, a partner with Commonwealth Economics, said in an interview Wednesday the projections included in the study “are fair and conservative.”

“There are a lot of assumptions in that report,” he said. “We’re certainly not saying this project will guarantee those types of impacts.”

Conflict Of Interest?

When it comes to navigating the complexities of financial structures like tax increment financing, bonds or public-private partnerships, Louisville officials often turn to the experts at Commonwealth Economics.

The Lexington-based firm specializes in these areas, and the company’s website touts decades of experience in bond analysis and “a keen understanding” of complicated financial frameworks.

The group’s founder, John R. Farris, once served as Kentucky’s Secretary of Finance and “helped draft the state’s new (tax increment financing) law in 2007,” according to Commonwealth Economics’ website.

Their client list includes some of the biggest public and private entities in the state — including the University of Louisville Foundation, Frost Brown Todd and the University of Kentucky.

The Louisville Downtown Development Corporation and Louisville Forward — the city’s economic development department — are also clients.

City data show Louisville Metro government has paid Commonwealth Economics $362,000 since 2013. In August, the group was approved for a non-compete annual contract that promises at least $108,000 to provide “financial advice and counseling on complex financial arrangements, deal structures and tax increment financing.”

At a Metro Council committee meeting to consider the contract, Laura Ferguson — an assistant director within the city’s economic development department — said Commonwealth Economics brings a “wealth of knowledge” in evaluating financial deals and structuring bonds.

Ferguson said the group has helped city officials navigate a number of complex financial deals, including those involving the Omni Hotel, the city’s parking authority and the soccer stadium project.

“We get them involved early so we have the advice that we need,” Ferguson said.

Because of this contract, Commonwealth Economics will likely be involved if Louisville City FC’s stadium project goes forward. That’s why having the company prepare the project’s economic impact study at the behest of the team is potentially problematic, said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, an ethics watchdog group.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right,” Ryan said.

Representatives of Fischer’s office and Commonwealth Economics say there’s no conflict of interest in having Commonwealth prepare the project’s economic analysis.

Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said “there’s no conflict from our point of view.”

Casey Bolton, a partner with Commonwealth Economics, said he doesn’t see a conflict either. He said the group works for a retainer fee and receives no added compensation for bond sales.

“That would be an incorrect assumption for anybody to think that we stand to benefit from recommending this one way or another,” he said.

But he did acknowledge how one could perceive such a conflict.

“Yeah,” he said. “We work for both parties.”

Asked about the potential conflict of interest, Councilwoman Sexton Smith said “that’s a very good question.”

“It could be posed for a legal opinion,” she said.

Councilman Kramer, who is skeptical about the deal, said the potential for Commonwealth Economics to profit shouldn’t restrict the company’s participation in examining the project.

He said if Commonwealth Economics is providing accurate estimates, and not estimates that will ensure the project is approved, there should be no problem.

“But if they’re only in it for profit, that’s a problem,” he said.

Metro Council is set to vote on whether to approve $30 million in bonds for the project on October 26.

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

U.S. Jobs Dropped By 33,000 In September, Likely Due To Storms Friday, Oct 6 2017 

The U.S. economy shed 33,000 jobs in September, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while unemployment fell to 4.2 percent.

The September payrolls drop broke a nearly 7-year streak of continuous job gains. But economists caution that the drop is likely representing the short-term consequences of bad weather, not a long-term shift in the job market.

Before this report, the economy had added an average of about 175,000 jobs per month; the unemployment rate has been at 4.3 or 4.4 percent since April.

Job growth in September was expected to be lower than usual because of the effects of several devastating hurricanes. Economists did not generally predict an actual decline, but a not-so-stellar report was widely anticipated.

“Hurricane Irma, in particular, occurred during the period when the Labor Department surveys job growth,” reports NPR’s Jim Zarroli. “So it’s likely to have an especially big impact.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics agrees that hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the “likely” cause of a “sharp employment decline” in restaurant jobs, as well as low growth in other job fields.

People who have jobs but weren’t paid during the survey period don’t count as “employed” in the BLS statistics. That would include, for instance, a restaurant worker who is paid hourly and could not work for an extended period because of a storm.

The acting commissioner provided more context in a statement issued with the report.

“In September, 1.5 million workers had a job but were not at work for the entire reference week due to bad weather, the highest level for this series over the past 20 years,” William Wiatrowski wrote. “This series is highly sensitive to the timing of weather events.”

Not all the data were similarly affected. For instance, the storms had “no discernible effect” on the unemployment rate, the bureau says.

Stuart Hoffman, a senior economic advisor at PNC Financial Services, told Jim the effects of the storms are likely to be temporary, and the job market should recover by the end of the year.

The September jobs report also adjusted revised job growth in July and August downward; with those revisions, 38,000 fewer jobs were added this summer than had been previously reported.

Job growth has now averaged 91,000 jobs monthly for the past 3 months, the BLS says.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Read Louisville’s Responses To Questions About Butchertown Stadium Project Thursday, Oct 5 2017 

Louisville’s Metro Council is expected to vote next week on whether to approve a $30 million bond for a Butchertown development project that would include a soccer stadium for Louisville City FC — the city’s pro soccer club.

(How do you think Metro Council should vote? Tell us)

The only group that has publicly questioned the project is the Pegasus Institute — a local right-leaning think tank. Pegasus Institute sent 11 questions to the city about the proposal, requesting responses.

Louisville Metro Government General Counsel Jeff Mosely responded to the questions Thursday. Read the Pegasus Institute’s questions (in bold) and Mosely’s answers (in italics) below.

1. In 2016, a member of Metro Council reported that the city of Louisville had a road repair deficit of $112 million, and a sidewalk repair deficit of $86 million, and that bonds must be issued to pay to maintain the city’s road repair needs. If the city is incapable of fulfilling the basic functions of city government, and has already been forced to resort to using bonds for basic infrastructure needs, why is it appropriate for Louisville to bond additional debt to subsidize this project?

It is appropriate for Louisville to issue bonds for this project because the project represents an opportunity to increase our wage and property tax base by growing city revenues. Additionally, the project leverages the return of state taxes to our jurisdiction through the TIF along with a $14.5 million repayment of the borrowed amount. The city’s credit rating speaks to the positive outlook regarding our financial structure, economy, and fiscal management. The city received affirmed credit ratings with stable outlooks from Fitch (AAA), Moody’s (Aa1), and S&P (AA+) after being informed of the potential economic development bond for the stadium district.

2. With Kentucky’s pension system in a state of crisis — needed reforms forthcoming —  and cost changes to local governments undetermined, what gives the Council confidence that the city’s fiscal condition is strong enough to subsidize this project before pension reform is completed?

With regard to pensions and any associated uncertainties, the Metro Council is continually briefed on annual pension expense and balance sheet related liabilities through multiple committees and channels, including an Ad Hoc Committee in April, 2016, an 8-week budget adoption process annually, and the opportunity to seek outside opinions from entities such as the Kentucky League of Cities (just last month). The Council and the Mayor have to continue to make investment decisions for the community even with uncertainty — it is why the Council has repeatedly passed capital budgets that require the use of debt to fund investments and projects for the community.

3. After last week’s revelations related to the University of Louisville’s basketball program — the chief tenant of the KFC Yum Center — and the future of the program in question, what gives the Council confidence that the city’s fiscal condition is strong enough to subsidize this project before this situation is resolved?

The Arena Authority is moving forward with refinancing its debt. Their plan was positively received at KEDFA last week. The effects of the U of L situation will likely not be known for a while. We believe that the management at the Authority and its financial team can structure the debt and manage the schedule to address any short term revenue issues due to U of L’s potential situation.

4. Subsidized professional sports stadiums are rarely able to recoup the initial costs to taxpayers. The total cost of the bonded debt will be approximately $41 million to taxpayers, and $14.5 million will be recovered in leasing and other fees. Optimistically, this project is expected to lose more than $26 million for Louisville taxpayers alone, not including commitments from the state. Why is it justifiable for the people of Louisville to assume this loss?

The City’s participation will end up being approximately $15.5M, not $26M depending on interest rate obtained. The way it is structured, our $15.5M participation will leverage state funds and approximately $130M in private funds. We believe these figures justify the expense and will further spur other growth in the contiguous areas from which the City will also benefit.

5. Similarly, the economic justification for a public expense is that it provides a “public good.” What are the ways that this project provides a “public good?”

The “public good” is leveraging $130M in private dollars and additional state dollars to create a project that is estimated to produce over 1,400 construction jobs and over 1,700 jobs upon completion of the site. This project also creates an amenity for the citizens that assists in talent attraction and retention. It allows us to pursue an MLS franchise. It continues to spur growth in our City and increases our tax base that puts the City in a better position to address the City’s obligations and community needs.

6. The city is expected to pay $25 million for approximately 40 acres of land. Officials have noted that this land is unused and would be expected to remain unused in the absence of this project. What measures, if any, has the city taken to ensure that it is paying the appropriate market value of this unused land? Will the details of these examinations be made available to the public prior to any vote being taken?

The City has commissioned a formal appraisal of the properties. The appraisal is expected to be completed and delivered by the end of this work week (10/6). The appraiser has verbally informed us that the parcels sought to be purchased have been valued at $25 million.

7. If the environmental clean-up exceeds $5 million, will Louisville taxpayers be responsible for these additional costs?

No. The City’s participation is capped at $30M in project costs. As a point of clarification, the $5 million refers to public infrastructure costs, not environmental costs.

8. What factors contributed to the Butchertown site being chosen over the others that were considered? Would this investment of taxpayer money be better suited to a more economically distressed part of the city?

Factors included:

a. Close to urban core;
b. Walkable from downtown as necessitated by the MLS and recommended by the CLS study;
c. In an area that is growing and is likely to catalyze further investment;
d. Location is close to NuLu and Butchertown, Botanica, across from pedestrian bridge,  Waterfront Park and easily accessible to tourists;
e. Creates a “stadium district” where Slugger Field, soccer, and the Yum Center are all in the same line of sight and walkable to each other;
f. Site was big enough to accommodate not only stadium, but also necessary ancillary development;
g. Project was able to obtain site control of this location.

9. Central to the city’s ability to recoup a minor percentage of its investment is a plan for two hotels and office space to be built on the land. Are there existing commitments from any organizations that can ensure that these additional projects will be completed?

The LCFC ownership group is currently negotiating with a potential anchor tenant who desires to build an office building with a significant amount of square footage. The LCFC ownership group has also participated in discussions with a hotel developer to construct a hotel to support the office tower and the environs, and with other businesses to locate in the new office tower. The LCFC ownership group has received many inquiries from businesses about potentially locating on this site.

10. By what year does the Louisville FC anticipate that it will be in a financial position to apply for MLS membership and pay the franchising fees in excess of $150 million? Would the owners be willing to accept a limitation that the city of Louisville will never be asked to subsidize this franchise fee?

The prospects of entry to the MLS depend on the success of building a stadium, filling it, having a highly competitive team and a subsequent plan to expand the stadium to 20,000 seats. Once this is achieved, application for MLS for membership is possible (earliest likelihood would be 2021 or 2022). This application would require bringing on new investors to raise the necessary funds for the entry fee and the stadium expansion. LCFC has no intention of asking the city to subsidize the entry fee to the MLS.

11. If the additional private funds for the stadium project are not secured, what are the city’s plans for the land? What is the potential economic impact/loss to Louisville expected to be in this scenario?

Land would likely be part of some type of RFP/competitive solicitation where City will review submissions for development and choose the most advantageous. The ultimate uses of the land will determine the development potential. The City would expect to receive the value of the land back as part of that process.

 

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

Tell Us: Should Metro Council Approve $30 Million In Bonds For Butchertown Stadium Project? Thursday, Oct 5 2017 

Metro Council is expected to vote next week on a $30 million bond ordinance that would support a new development in Butchertown. The development will include a stadium for Louisville’s pro soccer club, as well as retail, hotels and office space.

The bond the city is proposing would go to buying about 35 acres of land in the neighborhood, along with brownfield remediation and public infrastructure improvements.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith say the deal is a no-brainer, and will be great for the area’s development. The measure passed the council’s budget committee this week.

Assuming the state approves a Tax Increment Financing district for the project, the city estimates it will recoup its investment within 20 years. The plan includes for Louisville City FC to reimburse the city $14.5 million for the land, with the additional money coming from increased property taxes. But the city will have to pay interest on the bond, too.

Greater Louisville, Inc—the city’s chamber of commerce—has also spoken in favor of the deal. But a right-leaning Louisville-based think-tank has registered its opposition. The Pegasus Institute issued a memo to council members urging they slow down, seek public input and be cautious before investing city money in the project.

So, what do you think? If you were on the Metro Council, would you vote yes or no to authorize the funding? Why or why not? Let us know below and we’ll use some of your answers in future coverage.

(Can’t see the form? Click here!)

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

Bipartisan Bill Would Prop Up Coal Miners’ Pensions Thursday, Oct 5 2017 

A bipartisan Congressional group from the Ohio Valley and beyond introduced a new bill to save pensions for retired union coal miners throughout the region.

The American Miners Pension Act, or AMP, would secure pensions for about 43,000 miners in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia whose retirement benefits have been undermined by the decline of the coal industry.

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said Congress acted to protect miners’ health benefits last year but pensions got kicked down the road.

“And every day that it goes without settling our pension problems it’s another day this will cost more,” Manchin said.  

Without Congressional action, the United Mine Workers pension plan could become insolvent in about five years. The UMW blames the pension fund’s decline on a downturn in coal markets and coal company bankruptcies. The AMP Act would transfer excess funds from the federal Abandoned Mine Land program to the UMW pension plan. Manchin said bankruptcy laws are also at the root of the problem.

“This will repeat itself time and time again. We’re not going to change it unless we change our bankruptcy laws,” Manchin said.

mining-without-benefits-v5Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Manchin said the bill seeks a loan, not a bailout. The AMP Act would require the pension fund to certify each year that it is solvent and able to pay back the principal and interest. UMW representatives warn that if their pension plan collapses, the beneficiaries and their dependents will be moved into the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which could also put that important source of pension protection at risk.

Robert Bailey was a coal miner for 36 years and retired from Patriot Coal, a company Peabody Coal created. Patriot carried many pension and health benefit costs from Peabody and has twice declared bankruptcy. Bailey said he worries he will lose his main source of income if the UMW’s pension plan becomes insolvent.

“It would definitely be devastating to the majority of coal miners that depend on this,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he has developed black lung and is unable to work. His wife left work to stay home and care for him as well. He said the federal government promised long ago to  guarantee lifelong benefits for miners — a pledge he said the AMP Act would keep.

“If they have any morals, to me, they would have to pass it,” Bailey said.

Coal retirees have been fighting to secure their benefits for nearly five years. The average monthly pension payment in the Ohio Valley is about $500 to $600.

WVPB’s Glynis Board, Roxy Todd, and Jessica Lilly contributed to this report.

Equifax Chief Steps Down After Massive Data Breach Tuesday, Sep 26 2017 

Updated at 9:54 a.m. ET

Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard F. Smith is retiring, the credit reporting agency announced Tuesday. The news comes just weeks after the company said a massive data breach exposed the personal information of up to 143 million people.

At the time, the company also acknowledged it had waited more than a month to alert people to the breach, which potentially gave hackers access to U.S. consumers’ names, social security numbers, addresses, birth dates — and, for some people, their credit card information, as well.

“The cybersecurity incident has affected millions of consumers, and I have been completely dedicated to making this right,” Smith said in a statement Tuesday. “At this critical juncture, I believe it is in the best interests of the company to have new leadership to move the company forward.”

His retirement is effective immediately.

As NPR’s Alina Selyukh noted, the fact of the data breach is not the only controversy swirling around Equifax:

“The credit reporting company has said that it discovered “unauthorized access” to its systems on July 29,” Alina reported earlier this month. “Regulatory filings show the three Equifax executives — Chief Financial Officer John Gamble, U.S. Information Solutions President Joseph Loughran and Workforce Solutions President Rodolfo Ploder — completed stock sales on Aug. 1 and 2.”

The agency denies these executives knew about the data breach “at the time they sold their shares.”

Added to this revelation was another reported by NPR’s Merrit Kennedy: In the days following its acknowledgment of the incident, the company at several times directed concerned consumers to a fake phishing site set up by one of its engineers.

The move — apparently an attempt to “educate people rather than steal their information,” Merrit adds — nevertheless elicited further criticism over how Equifax was responding to the massive incident.

“I recommend companies direct people to a site that is trusted and part of their main domain, in order to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen,” Tarah Wheeler, a cybersecurity consultant at Red Queen Technologies, told NPR last week.

“We are working intensely to support consumers and make the necessary changes to minimize the risk that something like this happens again,” board member Mark Feidler said of the data breach in a statement Tuesday.

“Speaking for everyone on the Board, I sincerely apologize. We have formed a Special Committee of the Board to focus on the issues arising from the incident and to ensure that all appropriate actions are taken.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NAFTA Talks Have Ohio Valley Pork Producers Nervous Thursday, Sep 21 2017 

Talks on renegotiating NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, are set for later this month and farm country is concerned about the potential fallout from a trade dispute. Pork producers are especially nervous about the implications of a threat from President Trump to place a 20 percent tariff on Mexican food imports.

“Mexico is one of the largest markets for pork from the United States,” said Jimmy Tosh, owner of Tosh Farms, the 24th largest pork production company in the country. “I think if Mexico doesn’t get favorable treatment we may have a 20 percent tariff imposed on our pork going to Mexico.”

Tosh has some 80 contract hog farms in Kentucky and Tennessee producing more than 600,000 market hogs each year, and he said free trade has been an essential ingredient for success.

“We have a competitive advantage because Mexico is right across the border for us and they are a large purchaser for all our agricultural products,” Tosh said.

Pork producers like Tosh fear Mexican retaliation could upend an industry built on free trade, and industry leaders and agriculture experts warn the effects could be widespread.

Trade A-pork-alypse?

Tosh’s farmers enter into the industry with a 10 to 12 year commitment and build barns and allocate land for the operation. Tosh supplies the hogs and feed.

“There has been quite a bit of increase in pig production,” he said, with record production this year. “We have two new slaughter plants coming online that we hope will absorb the production, but the world market is very, very critical to the U.S. pork industry.”

The Ohio Valley region has roughly 5,000 hog farmers contributing more than $900 million in product value.  Most of those are in Kentucky and Ohio, which rank among the top 30 hog-producing states. West Virginia has a little more than 700 hog farms.

International Food Policy Research Institute Senior Fellow Joe Glauber worries about broader damage to the agriculture sector if the NAFTA talks break down and Mexico retaliates. Glauber was chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was involved in negotiations when NAFTA was implemented 23 years ago.

“If you think back, in the mid-90s we were doing — between Mexico and Canada — about $10 billion worth of trade,” Glauber said. “It’s now over four times that. It’s important for a number of commodities.”

NAFTA-commoditiesAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

NAFTA’s  first 5 years brought a 130 percent increase in pork exports, which also boosted sales of yellow corn, which is used for hog feed, another important crop in the Ohio Valley.

Glauber said cross border supply chains are also at risk. At the same time, Glauber said, there are some elements of NAFTA which should be reviewed. “These are old agreements,” he said, and language dealing with dispute settlements and regulations may need updates.

Jim Monroe is senior communications director with the National Pork Producers Council, which has been trying to estimate the potential hit the industry could take. He said that losing the current zero percent tariff-based status under NAFTA could result in a $1.5 billion loss for U.S. pork and could affect 17,000 jobs in pork production.

“So obviously a catastrophic impact on the industry,” Monroe said. “And that’s why the renegotiation that’s taking place right now is so critical.”

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

‘Very Concerning’

Hog farmer Jimmy Tosh worries that those losses could become long-term if global competitors such as Brazil take advantage of the market opportunity created should the U.S. lose its NAFTA advantage.

“Let’s hope it’s smoke in mirrors, but it is very concerning,” he said, adding that it’s not the only trade dispute on his radar. “There has also been threats to cancel the Korean free trade agreement, too, and they take about 2 percent of our pork,” Tosh said.

Reuters reported during an August interview with Trump that he will “either renegotiate or terminate” what he called a “horrible” free trade deal with South Korea.

NAFTA talks resume in Ottowa on September 23. A new deal is possible by the end of the year.

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