Economic development efforts in 39 Kentucky counties where the Tennessee Valley Authority has a presence - which include most in western Kentucky - will be enhanced by legislation signed into law this week.
Gov. Matt Bevin signed Kentucky House Bill 411, which adjusts TVA's in-lieu-of-tax payment formula to bolster economic development in the counties thath either buy power from TVA or where TVA has property.
As a publicly owned utility created by the federal government, TVA is exempt from taxation, but instead makes payments to the commonwealth.
A coalition of 19 lawmakers backed the legislation, led by State Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tomkinsville, in the House and Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, in the Senate.
"We've worked long and hard for several years to get this approved," said Humphries. "I'm thankful to my colleagues in the legislature for seeing fit to support this bill which is so desperately needed to attract good jobs that will fund good wages for families in the rural part of Kentucky.
"It's a needed shot in the arm."
Seventy percent of TVA's in-lieu-of-taxes contribution will continue to go to the cities, counties, and school districts in Kentucky as it always has. The remaining 30 percent goes into the state's general fund, and the money for economic development in the 39 counties will come from there.
The TVA region in Kentucky includes Adair, Allen, Ballard, Barren, Bell, Butler, Caldwell, Calloway, Carlisle, Christian, Clinton, Cumberland, Edmonson, Fulton, Graves, Grayson, Harlan, Hart, Henderson, Hickman, Livingston, Logan, Lyon, Marshall, McCracken, McCreary, Metcalfe, Monroe, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Russell, Simpson, Todd, Trigg, Union, Warren, Wayne, Webster and Whitley counties.
The approved legislation creates a framework for distribution and oversight to ensure funds are used for job-attracting activities like land prep for industrial sites, infrastructure upgrades, or for matching federal and state funds or grants.
The law provides $2 million to be divided equally among the 39 counties in fiscal year 2018-19; $4 million to be divided equally in fiscal year 2019-20, and $6 million beginning in fiscal year 2020-21 and each fiscal year after.
"I think it's extremely important to the entire region for a number of reasons," said Ryan Drane, Graves County Economic Development president, who testified in Frankfort on the measure.
"Until this bill was passed, west Kentucky didn't receive any funding from the state to assist economic development. We were kind of on our own.
"This will allow us to work on special infrastructure projects like property development, things you have to do to be really proactive if you want to attract industry," he said. "If I want to build a spec building or buy property or do site improvements, that's what we could utilize these dollars for."
Fulton County Judge-Executive Jim Martin, who has worked on the issue for several years, also testified in Frankfort.
"You know everybody in Frankfort is looking for money," Martin said. "But the one thing I will say about the governor, he understands that this bill is not a handout to these counties but an investment in job development. And that's how the state of Kentucky is going to solve our budget woes ... creating jobs that fund and drive the state budget."
According to Martin, the state needs to come up with a strategy to take advantage of what the river counties like Fulton have to offer.
"Kentucky has more navigable shoreline than any state in the union other than Alaska," Martin said. "That's a great asset that sets us apart from everybody else."