Whitesburg KY

Talks on energy tax incentive plan progressing, leaders say


Legislative leaders, on the day they had once intended to convene the General Assembly in a special session on the matter, instead began closed-doors talks late Monday aimed at luring a coal gasification plant to Kentucky.

Key lawmakers emerged from a meeting that ran about 5- 1/2 hours saying they were closer on an agreement, but still had not resolved their differences. Details of their private talks were not released.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said lawmakers had made “great progress” and talks were to resume tomorrow (Thursday) with a possible special session looming by the start of next week.

“I think most of the major things were worked out today and the tone was very good and very cooperative, and I’m very pleased about that,” Richards said. “Everybody worked together, and so I think we have a real good chance of finishing up on Thursday with a bill that I think is a good energy policy.”

Still, House and Senate leaders were offering zero new details on the proposal.

Nevertheless, both Richards and Senate President David Williams claimed they were optimistic they could ratchet out an agreement soon.

“They say that 95 percent of most bills are in agreement, but it’s the 5 percent that’s the heck of it,” Williams said before the meeting. “So I’m going to go in and give it the old college try.”

State lawmakers have spent the summer considering a proposal that calls for $300 million in tax breaks for the plant.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher called the legislature into a special session last month to deal with the proposal. The Senate passed an energy tax-incentive plan, but the House did not address Fletcher’s legislative agenda and adjourned.

Lawmakers had said they were hoping to ask Fletcher to call a special session to begin on Monday. But certain undisclosed issues remained unresolved.

Fletcher, who did not attend Monday night’s meeting, said beforehand that he met with House and Senate lawmakers and was ready to order the legislature into a special session this week, if given the nod.

“I’m optimistic, but you never know until the legislators sit down and go through the differences,” Fletcher said.

Richards declined to offer any specifics on the plan but said lawmakers were getting “closer and closer” to compromise. He said some of disputes on the bill were philosophical while others were detail oriented.

“Both sides seem to want a bill and want a bill that’s really good for the people of Kentucky,” Richards said, “and that will promote economic development. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Williams said the current proposal was a combination of elements from versions of House and Senate bills that had passed previously.

Although details have not been made public, Williams said he did not anticipate holding a special session unless there was agreement between legislative leaders that the proposal would pass the legislature. Rank-andfile members of the legislature eventually would be briefed on the plan, Williams said.

“We’re committed to reaching a consensus on this before we tell the governor we’ve reached an agreement and that we think it would be appropriate at that time for him to call a session,” Williams said.

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