Coal severance tax revenue could be the key to creating a new public university in Appalachia to provide an educational and economic stimulus to the region.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo promoted a plan this week that would direct about $ 14 million a year from an existing tax on mined coal to the University of Pikeville, a private school that wants to be part of the state’s system of public universities.
Legislation is expected to be filed that, if passed, would provide coal severance tax revenue that’s been set aside for multi-county economic development projects in eastern Kentucky.
“We’re still working on getting the exact funding language into the draft,” Stumbo said Tuesday.
University of Pikeville President Paul Patton, a former Kentucky governor, said the proposal is “the most important economic development” project that could be done in the region.
“The whole state has a vested interest in bringing up the economic and social standing of Appalachia Kentucky,” Patton said.
If approved by the legislature, the University of Pikeville would be the state’s only public university in Kentucky’s eastern coalfi elds.
Proponents of making the private school a public institution say Kentucky’s mountain residents need a four-year state university closer to their homes. The nearest ones now, Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University, are more than two hours away from Pikeville.
Gov. Steve Beshear has ordered a study to look at the benefits and drawbacks of the proposal that comes amid severe budget woes that have forced cuts in government services and programs.
The study, expected to take up to two months, would look at potential issues regarding personnel, academic standards, building conditions, campus policies, financial issues and accreditation.
The University of Pikeville, founded by Presbyterians in 1889, has about 1,100 full-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs, including a school of osteopathic medicine with the mission of producing more doctors for the medically underserved region. The move would allow the university to reduce tuition from $17,000 to $7,000 a year, making a college education far more affordable for students in a 12-county serice area.
Patton said he is encouraged by the interest the project has garnered in the legislature.
“It does seem to have taken some wings, but you know things can be shot down pretty quickly in Frankfort,” Patton said.