- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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April 3


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Lexington Herald-Leader on Kentucky teachers and the Legislature:

First some good news: Teachers were heard.



Lawmakers knew that fired-up educators and pro-education Kentuckians, who filled the Capitol for weeks, were watching.

That’s a big reason the Republicans who control the General Assembly abandoned some of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s and their own worst ideas for cutting public pensions and public spending.

Instead, lawmakers chose - of all things - to raise taxes. Many had to break the pledge that they had signed to oppose all tax increases. They responded to the needs and demands of Kentuckians rather than answer to distant anti-government puppet masters. That’s refreshing and encouraging.

Unfortunately (bad news starts here), rather than investing in educating Kentuckians and building 21st century infrastructure, Republican lawmakers gave away a big chunk of that new tax revenue in the form of tax cuts that will most benefit affluent individuals.

Nursing home aides, restaurant workers and students will pay more to keep their cars running, while corporations get an $80 million break. Smokers, who are generally low-income, will pay $133 million more for cigarettes made of tobacco (but still no tax on electronic cigarettes). Everyone who pays personal income tax will get a break, but those with the highest incomes will get the biggest windfalls, which will worsen economic inequality. The changes shift tax burden from those who can most afford to pay to those who can least afford it.

Questions of fairness aside, one big problem with this shift from income taxes to sales taxes is that it won’t meet Kentucky’s long-term revenue needs by growing with the economy. This is especially true of the 50 cent tax increase on cigarettes, which will decline as fewer people smoke or switch to untaxed ecigs.

As Jason Bailey of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy writes, “In an economy where most income growth is at the top and where corporations are experiencing record profits, a tax system that taxes them less while taxing low- and middle-income people more will result in slower revenue growth,”

Republicans, who proudly say that once their tax plan becomes law Kentucky will be among the 10 states with the lowest income taxes, are devoted to the notion that low income taxes trigger economic growth. Time will tell.

More likely, though, new budget crises are in Kentucky’s future - at which point lawmakers will have to take their pencils to the tax exemptions and economic incentives that drain billions from state coffers and that went largely unexamined in this session.

Meanwhile, despite almost $250 million a year in net new revenue, Kentucky will still underfund education, even though it would have been worse under Bevin’s budget or the budget passed by the Senate.

A decade-long disinvestment in higher education will continue. Kentucky has cut almost a quarter-billion dollars in state support for higher ed since 2008.

On the up side, the state will continue to fund transportation and school employee health insurance at close to current levels. Bevin had proposed shifting much of the cost of running school buses onto local districts.

But the budget makes many cuts in education, including preschool, textbooks and instructional resources, family resource and youth service centers, extended school services, teacher professional development.

Lawmakers did the most important thing they could to solve the underfunding of public pensions: They fully funded public pensions. Rebuilding the once healthy pension funds will take decades, but the only way to do it is one year at a time.

Bevin, meanwhile, sniped from the sidelines at Republicans who stuck out their necks to support more revenue and a Republican vision of tax reform.

The governor once implored lawmakers to boldly reform the tax system to raise new revenue, leaving no “sacred cow” tax break unexamined. Then in January, he proposed a budget so devastating to Kentucky that it all but demanded tax increases.

On Monday night, as lawmakers scrambled to finish in time to have room to override vetoes in April, Bevin issued a vague statement questioning whether his fellow Republicans were being “fiscally responsible.”

Online: http://www.kentucky.com/

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March 28

The Daily News of Bowling Green on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and hemp:

In 2014, we editorialized that we believed it was the right time for hemp to be reintroduced in the state.

Under a provision of that year’s federal farm bill, it was reintroduced for a pilot program to see how well it would do and how productive it could become. The pilot project would also help answer every question a farmer has about hemp, such as what variety of seeds works best in which soil, what’s the optimum date to plant and what type of farm equipment it takes to harvest hemp.

It appears that all of those questions have been answered in a very positive way.

Fast-forward four years and hemp production in Kentucky is booming. In 2014, production of hemp was limited to 33 acres, while this year it is estimated to increase to 12,000 acres. These numbers are certainly proof that hemp has taken hold in our state and that farmers are seeing its value not only for them but for their local and state economies.

It has been proven over and over that hemp can be used for a variety of things such as improving health, counteracting aging skin, health foods, clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuel, plastic composites and much more.

While it’s great that hemp is allowed in our state for pilot projects, we believe now is the time to take hemp off the controlled substance list and to legalize it as an agricultural commodity.

That is why we are 100 percent behind U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in his efforts to do just that.

Speaking in Frankfort on Monday with Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, McConnell announced the impending introduction of legislation in the U.S. Senate to support Kentucky’s hemp industry. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances.

The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would help Kentucky enhance its position as the leading state in hemp production. It builds upon the success we have seen through the hemp pilot programs by allowing states to be the primary regulators of hemp, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture approves the implementation plan. This legislation also would remove the federal barriers in place that have stifled the industry, which would help expand the domestic production of hemp. It would also give hemp researchers the chance to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - allowing them to continue their impressive work with the support of federal research dollars.

“Hemp has played a foundational role in Kentucky’s agricultural heritage, and I believe that it can be an important part of our future,” McConnell said. “I am grateful to join our Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in this effort. He and his predecessor, Jamie Comer, have been real champions for the research and development of industrial hemp in the commonwealth. The work of Commissioner Quarles here in Kentucky has become a nationwide example for the right way to cultivate hemp. I am proud to stand here with him today, because I believe that we are ready to take the next step and build upon the successes we’ve seen with Kentucky’s hemp pilot program.”

We believe McConnell and Quarles are really onto something here. It is far past time to take hemp off the controlled substance list. It has proven in the past four years that it is a very viable product that has inspired other states to follow our lead in growing it. Taking this off the list of controlled substances as initiated by McConnell through legislation in the Senate is a great way to get this product, which is already booming, to become an increasingly viable cash crop in our state.

Online: http://www.bgdailynews.com/

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March 30

The Daily Independent of Ashland on the likely merger between hospital systems and the possible impact on health care:

While the long-term impact of the likely merger of St. Mary’s Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital on health care in Huntington and surrounding areas including northeastern Kentucky won’t be known for many months, it is likely that most area residents initially will not notice many changes once the two largest hospitals in Huntington come under the same ownership.

The proposed merger was first announced in November of 2014, when Cabell Huntington Hospital signed a definitive agreement with Pallottine Health Services, Inc., to acquire St. Mary’s. The merger became almost a certainty earlier this week when the Pallottine Missionary Sisters, the order that owns St. Mary’s, announced it had received approval from the Vatican for the medical center’s acquisition by Cabell Huntington. Vatican approval is required to adhere to the requirements of church law and permits the transaction to proceed.

“The Vatican approved the transaction with the understanding that the values and mission established by the Pallottine Sisters will continue at St. Mary’s Medical Center after the transaction is complete,” said Sister Mary Grace Barile, the provincial of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters, “The Sisters are pleased to transfer sponsorship to Cabell Huntington Hospital through an agreement that will allow St. Mary’s to remain a Catholic-affiliated healthcare facility and maintain its name.”

“On behalf the Cabell Huntington Hospital Board of Directors, we thank all the citizens, businesses, community organizations and local governmental agencies who have supported the transaction throughout the process,” said Kevin Yingling, MD, Chairman, CHH Board of Directors. “We look forward to working with our community supporters in unifying the two hospitals into a single system that will improve health care for generations to come.”

As we understand it, even with the merger, there still will be a Cabell Huntington Hospital and a St. Mary’s Medical Center and St. Mary’s will continue to operate as a largely Catholic hospital. However, the merger should enable both hospitals to become more efficient and be better able to serve their patients by sharing their expertise, eliminating duplication of services and reducing their operating costs. That, in turn, should improve the quality of both hospitals.

While it is likely that either King’s Daughters Medical Center or Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital are preferred by most people needing hospital care in this community, the two Huntington hospitals have always attracted many patients from northeastern Kentucky. Any improvements in the availability of quality medical care in the region are a positive for all of us who live here.

Online: http://www.dailyindependent.com/

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