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Coffee, muffins and legislation

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Farm Bureau talks politics with legislators

By Stephen Lega

The weather may have slowed things down, but it wasn't enough to stop Marion County Farm Bureau from hosting its annual legislative breakfast Saturday morning.

"We're not going to let a little snow keep us from talking about the issues," said Joe Paul Mattingly, Marion County Farm Bureau president.

Recently-elected State Sen. Jimmy Higdon and the two men running for his old state representative's seat in yesterday's special election, Leo Johnson and Terry Mills, also attended the breakfast.

Local farm bureau members were present to share their views, as were local officials - Lebanon City Councilman Bill Pickerill (who is also a state representative candidate in the May 18 primary election), Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw, Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly and Joe Mattingly, who recently resigned from the Marion County School Board.

Higdon presented an update on the 2010 legislative session. He said the legislature is looking for ways to reduce the projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall for the next biennium. Higdon said the shortfall is a result of the state's tax receipts coming in lower than originally budgeted.

With the economy down, revenue from personal and corporate income taxes and from sales tax have declined.

Higdon said the state was advised in 2002 that it needed to revise its tax system as a result of a study it commissioned by a noted economist from Tennessee. That study included a recommendation that the state add services to its sales tax.

He added that a case that may go to the U.S. Supreme Court could affect tax revenues as well. New York approved a law in 2008 requiring Internet retailers to collect sales tax on transactions from that state. The law is being challenged by Amazon.com and Overstock.com.

New York courts have held that the tax is constitutional.

If the Supreme Court upholds the New York decision, it could lead to more states approving similar laws.

Joe Paul Mattingly passed out copies of Farm Bureau's priorities for the 2010 legislative session. These include setting aside 50 percent of the tobacco settlement money for the Agricultural Development Board, supporting funding for a veterinary center at Murray State University, continued funding for soil erosion and water quality cost-share program, support for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and sufficient funding for a grain elevator inspection program.

The Farm Bureau also supports the creation of a Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Board, and the preservation of a state law (KRS 132.010) that requires a vote of the public before a taxing entity can raise it's tax revenue by more than 4 percent. Farm Bureau opposes the reinstatement of the estate tax and supports continued funding for county and secondary roads from the state gasoline tax.

Lastly, Farm Bureau wants to protect the right of landowners when dealing with regional planning, supports a state energy policy that maintains low electricity rates and supports increased emphasis on forest and timber issues.

When asked about expanded gaming, Higdon reiterated his support for allowing the public to vote on the issue. Johnson said he would support allowing a vote of the public, while Mills said he remained undecided on whether the legislators (as representatives of the public) should vote on it or the public should vote directly.

Joe Mattingly asked about funding for technical education, which falls under three areas at the state level: the Kentucky Department of Education, the Cabinet for Workforce Development and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Higdon agreed that this is an area that should be funded.

Judge Mattingly and Crenshaw advocated for a change to allow the Marion County Area Technology Center to host pilot programs that are more responsive to the needs of local industry.

Higdon said the best chance to do that would be for the Marion County ATC to be moved under the authority of the KDE. The Marion County ATC falls under Workforce Development at this time.