Randy Walters, director of Coal Fed Families in Perry County and a member of the East Kentucky TEA Party, met with a small group of people Sunday afternoon near the steps of the Capitol building where they left several small brown papers bags underneath the state Christmas tree. Inside those bags were lumps of coal.
Walters said the meaning behind leaving lumps of coal behind as presents to Beshear and several legislators was not hard to understand: He and his fellow TEA Partiers aren’t liking some of the things going on in Frankfort.
One lump of coal was left for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who Walters said did nothing to help a House resolution to receive a floor vote during the 2010 session of the General Assembly.
The resolution in question, HCR 10, sought to “honor the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Walters said, by maintaining state sovereignty and keeping the federal government from overreaching its authority. Walters said the resolution could have helped toughen the fight against the EPA in “saying that we didn’t give you regulatory power over our state.” He believes at present the EPA is over regulating the coal industry in eastern Kentucky.
Several House members joined the bill as cosponsors in an attempt to get it out of committee, but it ultimately failed, Walters noted. He said not enough coalfields legislators joined to cosponsor the resolution.
Gov. Beshear was presented with a lump of coal, Walters said, “for ripping off the coal severance” money to help hire more people to process coal permits. Coal severance money is collected from taxes on coal mined in Kentucky, and goes back to coal producing counties for aid in infrastructure development. He said that tax money should have gone back to the coal counties rather than to Frankfort.
Walters said despite Beshear’s recent joining of a law suit against the EPA for what Beshear called “arbitrary and unreasonable decisions” in regard to coal industry regulation, the governor isn’t doing enough to help the coal industry remain a viable industry in Kentucky. Citing the upcoming 2011 election in which Beshear is a candidate, Walters said Beshear’s move to join the Kentucky Coal Associations’ lawsuit was “politics as usual.”
Ultimately, Walters continued, Frankfort is being run by people who have been in office before and remain in power, but who have failed to move Kentucky forward or pay attention to the state’s fiscal health.
“Kentucky is rated at the bottom for state management. Kentucky’s rated right at the bottom for education,” Walters said, “and Kentucky’s debt is so unbelievable, and we’ve got a governor and people say, ‘I finally got a balanced budget.’ The budget is not balanced, not if you’re massively in debt and borrowing money. I wouldn’t call that balanced.
“We get all this double talk at election time about how good everyone’s doing. They’ve all got great ideas for Kentucky, but where were those ideas years and years ago when [these people] were right there (in Frankfort)?”
Lawmakers in Frankfort are required by law to balance Kentucky’s budget, and according to Kerri Richardson, that’s what Beshear has done several times since becoming Kentucky’s governor.
“First, let me clear something up – because of Governor Beshear's fiscally responsible leadership, Kentucky has no deficit. Unlike the folks in Washington, D.C., Gov. Beshear has balanced the budget eight different times, and he will continue to do so when needed,” Richardson said.
She also noted actions Beshear has taken to support the coal industry, from hiring more permit processors to battling with the EPA over the halting of several surface mine permits.
“Regarding the coal industry, Gov. Beshear highly values the more than 17,000 jobs this industry provides, along with 90 percent of our electricity,” she continued. “That's why he has added personnel to the Division of Mine Permits and added inspectors to the state Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. These additions will enable us to more quickly process mine permits as well as more aggressively ensure the safety of our miners. Further, he joined the lawsuit against the EPA because the agency’s arbitrary, unreasonable and inconsistent application of regulations is threatening to end the responsible mining of coal. These shifting regulations have real impacts on Kentuckians – disrupting businesses and threatening the livelihoods of the miners who are supporting families at home.”
In addition to Beshear and Stumbo, Walters and his fellow TEA Party members left lumps of coal for the following legislators: Rep. Leslie Combs, Rep. Tim Couch and Senate President David Williams among several others.