Work continues to determine the specific strategies of the 'Shaping Our Appalachian Region' initiative, usually referred to as SOAR. Legislation to establish a grant framework has passed the Kentucky Senate.
The first SOAR Summit was staged in December of 2013 in Pikeville. Discussions focused on the economic and social needs of eastern Kentucky. Since then, working groups have met several times. New legislation would create the Kentucky Appalachian Regional Development Fund. The measure does not specify how it will be funded.
Senate President Robert Stivers says that decision would likely be included in the overall state budget next year. "It could be funded through severance tax, general fund appropriations earmarks or, which I think some people overlook, monies that we receive from the federal government as a pass through," said Stivers.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones is calling for all coal severance tax revenues to return to eastern Kentucky counties. "You know, we have a limited window of opportunity to address some of the needs before we start seeing even larger population loss in Kentucky's Appalachian counties," said Jones.
Grayson Senator Robin Webb says accountability in distributing grants is important. As an example, she cites the Tobacco Settlement Task Force, of which she's a member. "They report to us with every application denied, every application approved, and the amounts and the purpose," said Webb. "I think that type of reporting and accountability is crucial to the credibility of the initiative."
The bill now moves on to the House.