Now, with one of those industries in sharp decline and the other enjoying its return, as head coach John Calipari says, to its “rightful position atop the mountain of college basketball,” their paths are crossing in a way that will leave many of Kentucky basketball’s biggest fans holding the short end of the stick. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D)announced plans this week to renovate Rupp Arena, the home of UK basketball since 1976. How the state plans to pay for the estimated $300 million cost, which includes renovations to the attached convention center, is unclear. But to cover the multimillion-dollar cost of the planning and design phase, which will begin soon, Kentucky is diverting $2.5 million in revenues raised from the 4.5 percent tax levied on the sale price of all coal produced in Kentucky.
The so-called coal severance tax generates more than $200 million a year in revenues for Kentucky. Half of that revenue goes immediately into the state’s general fund. The other half is split between two separate accounts for reinvestment into coal-producing counties, with those investments aimed at funding economic development projects that aren’t related to coal, and to foster economic development partnerships between eastern Kentucky counties. In the past, it has funded the creation of industrial parks, road, water, and other infrastructure projects, and scholarship programs for students from coal country. It is meant to address a reality that is staring Kentucky in the face: coal won’t be there forever, and the counties whose mountains have produced it for more than a century need something to turn to when the coal either runs out or is no longer worth mining.
What it isn’t meant to do is build arenas in Lexington. “That’s not what this money is for,” Carrie Ray, a research associate at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, an organziation based in Berea, Kentucky, told me. “It’s not intended to build a basketball arena that’s nowhere close to the coalfields.”
The state doesn't mind sticking Kentuckians with a $2-$5 toll each way on replacing the Brent Spence bridge to Cincy, but replacing Rupp Arena, well the state will bend over backwards to get that done ASAP. And these are the Democrats here doing this. Good ol' Dinosaur Steve and friends are happy to get Rupp Arena renovated. The Brent Spence? Not so much.
And people wonder why Kentucky is full of red state Dems.