By Sen. Robin Webb
My grandfather grew hemp in Carter County back during the war when it was a patriotic endeavor. Now my son has expressed great interest in carrying on that legacy.
He may actually get that opportunity under the burgeoning Kentucky industrial hemp program. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program, as it is officially known, is the result of the passage of 2013 state Senate Bill 50 and the 2014 federal farm bill.
SB 50 exempted industrial hemp from the state controlled substances act but also mandated that Kentucky follow all federal rules and regulations with respect to industrial hemp. The federal farm bill allowed states that legalized industrial hemp to administer pilot programs for the purposes of research and development of the crop.
The goal of this pilot program is to move this new industry forward while working to achieve independence for Kentucky farmers – who no longer can fall back on tobacco – to pursue production of industrial hemp in a free and open market.
I’ve been pushing for Kentucky to lay the groundwork for industrial hemp since Democratic House members first pushed for the creation of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission more than a decade ago. A big shout-out needs to go to state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer for reviving the commission after he was elected in November 2011 and subsequently leading the charge for SB 50.
The pilot program is a potential job-creator because of new hemp-related industries that could pop up around the crop to convert its fibers into textiles, fuel or plastics. I personally have a bottle of hemp-infused lotion, hemp soap and a coat made of the hemp fiber. This versatile crop has a bright future in Kentucky.
It was an honor for me and state Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, to attend the dedication of a highway marker honoring Vietnam Veterans on Aug. 17 in Greenup County. During the 2015 General Assembly we passed a joint resolution directing the transportation cabinet to designate the bridge on U.S. 23, over Tygart Creek near South Shore, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The keynote speaker at the dedication was retired U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Vance Huston. He flew more than 160 combat missions in Vietnam and was a member of an elite group of pilots who flew Marine One, the helicopter normally reserved for the president – who was John F. Kennedy at the time. Colonel Huston and his wife are long-time family friends and it is always an honor to be in his presence.
Vietnam was a very hard time in American history, and certainly for the men and women who served in that war. I had family members there, and I have friends who are still missing in action from that war. We want to honor them, and welcome them home, and let this be a part of the healing process. Let our nation heal as well as our own armed services.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, I was invited on Aug. 10 to appear on “Kentucky Tonight,” a Kentucky Educational Televisions weekly public affairs show, to talk about the state budget in advance of the fall elections and the 2016 General Assembly.
I told venerable host Bill Goodman that Kentucky seems to be coming out of the Great Recession pretty ferociously. Kentucky has received several awards from Site Selection and Area Development magazines for being one of the biggest producer of jobs and new economic investment per capita.
Fiscal year 2015 ended with a $165 million surplus, marking the fifth straight year of growth for Kentucky. Personal and business tax revenue exceeded projections. And the state’s rainy day fund is at its highest level since 2007. Many economists are cautiously optimistic about the state’s financial outlook going into this fiscal year 2016. Preliminary figures for July show a strong start to the new fiscal year.
There are no real surprises when it comes to the state revenue sources that are underperforming. Lottery proceeds were $16.5 million lower than predicted as the so-called jackpot fatigue grips the state. (That’s when casual players hold off from buying a ticket until the jackpot climbs in an astronomical figure.) Revenues from the gasoline tax have declined as fuel prices dropped. Revenues from cigarettes have also plummeted as people kick the smoking addiction.
As the state’s coal industry struggles with declining production, severance revenues have dropped as well. Those receipts have fallen for three consecutive years, and are $50 million less now than they were in 2013. This former coal miner, however, isn’t about to write off coal. If regulators will allow coal to be mined, then the state can supply the growing demand in foreign markets. Plus, I’m dubious about the prospects for natural gas since it’s also a fossil fuel and there are environmental concerns about the fracking procedures used to capture it.
Until our country settles on a cohesive energy policy, legislators are going to have to look at other sources of revenue to maintain the important programs funded by the coal severance tax. Under the current coal severance tax formula, a percentage of that revenue goes to counties for worthwhile programs. That includes anti-drug initiatives – something we can’t afford to lose as we combat the heroin epidemic.
Goodman ended his show by asking me what advice I would give the next governor. I answered that I hope whoever it is that he will hire competent, experienced individuals for his budget staff and take steps to ensure that any tax changes don’t inhibit job growth. The next governor must be mindful that his budget is a reflection of how he prioritizes and how he views the people that he is governing.
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, represents Boyd, Carter and Greenup counties. She welcomes your concerns or comments by calling 800-372-7181 or emailing at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/robin.webb.313.