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Beshear backs spending increases for education, health care

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear proposed spending increases for public education from kindergarten through college and for health care in a state budget plan that avoids cuts and counts on limited new revenues from taxes on cigarettes and sports betting.

In a speech Tuesday evening before the Republican-led legislature, the Democratic governor proposed a $2,000 pay raise for every public school teacher, fulfilling a campaign pledge.

Beshear called for a 1 percent increase in the state’s school funding formula, known as SEEK, for public K-12 schools. That would inject about $87 million more into schools in the next two years. Base per-pupil funding would rise by $40 to $4,040 per year. Beshear’s plan seeks to restore $22 million for textbook costs over two years.

“Public education is not only the key to breaking cycles of poverty for our families, it is the key to leaping forward as a state,” the governor said. “The most important profession, the most important title in Kentucky is ‘teacher,’ and it is time we invest in them.”

A crowd of teachers gathered near the House chamber to show support for Beshear as he presented what he called an “education first” budget. Jeni Ward Bolander, a high school history teacher from Lexington, called it the “probably first ray of hope we’ve had in four years.”

For public universities, which have absorbed repeated cuts for more than a decade, the governor’s budget calls for a 1 percent spending increase for all postsecondary education institutions.

Beshear, who floated an ambitious wish-list for the state during last year’s campaign, unveiled more modest proposals to reflect the state’s many pressing needs and projections for meager revenue growth in the next two years. Overall General Fund spending would increase by 1.5 percent in the first year and another 2.4 percent in the second year under his budget blueprint.

Beshear said his budget contains no General Fund spending cuts for the first time in 14 years. The plan calls for raising salaries for state employees and hiring hundreds of additional social workers to combat child abuse.

“It is a budget that not only ends years of painful cuts, it also makes a major investment in public education, fully funds expanded Medicaid, makes a historic investment in protecting our children, directs dollars to breaking cycles of poverty, and I believe will move us forward as a people,” he said.

Now that Beshear has presented his spending plan, the work shifts to the Republican-dominated legislature to pass a budget during this year’s session, which ends in mid-April. Lawmakers will “dig into these numbers” as they put their imprint on the budget, House Speaker David Osborne said.

Asked for his first impressions of Beshear’s proposals, Osborne replied: “Apparently we are more flush with cash than we possibly imagined that we were coming into it.”

The speaker raised concerns that the governor didn’t propose more money to implement a sweeping school safety law enacted last year.

Beshear’s plan leaves the state’s sales and income tax rates unchanged, and he didn’t factor in any money from legalizing casino gambling, a proposal he championed as a candidate but which has been declared a nonstarter by some top Republican lawmakers.

Instead, Beshear’s budget plan assumes new revenues from a 10-cent increase in the cigarette tax, a tax on e-cigarettes and the legalization of sports betting, a proposal awaiting a House vote.

Beshear’s spending plan fully funds the state’s Medicaid program, including the Medicaid expansion started when his father, Steve Beshear, was governor. The expansion added hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians to the Medicaid rolls. Kentucky’s portion of covering its expanded Medicaid population will increase from 8.5 percent to 10 percent.

The governor’s budget includes an additional $38.9 million from the state’s General Fund in the next year and $199 million the following year to fully fund Medicaid and the expansion.

“Access to health care is a basic human right and we can’t turn our backs on the progress that we’ve made,” Andy Beshear said. “That’s why we’re fully funding expanded Medicaid in this budget and we’ll work to sign up every single person who qualifies.”

Beshear proposed a 1 percent pay raise for state employees in each year of the two-year budget cycle. He committed to paying the full contribution required on state employees’ pensions, which were long underfunded.

Continuing his focus on combating abuse and neglect during his tenure as attorney general, Beshear proposed adding 350 social workers in child protective services. The nearly 30 percent staffing boost would help ease bloated case loads for social workers.

To help implement the state’s 2019 school safety law, Beshear proposed $18.2 million in bond funding to finance school building upgrades. It reflects his belief that funding will have to occur in phases to carry out the safety law that also called for new resource officers and counselors.

Osborne chided the governor for the amount of proposed school-safety funding.

“I think for him to walk onto this floor, present a budget that funds his campaign promises to certain constituencies without funding the most important services that we can provide – the safety of our children – it causes me some concerns.”

After 55 years with company, Gipson to retire as Houchens CEO
 Don Sergent  / 

Thanks largely to Jimmie Gipson, many of Bowling Green-based Houchens Industries’ employees have been able to enjoy comfortable retirements. Now Gipson is ready to join them.

“Everybody has to retire sometime,” Gipson said Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the announcement that he was retiring at the end of March after 55 years with Houchens, the last 27 as CEO. “I’ve never been excited about retiring because I’m excited about what I do. I plan to be here every day until it’s time to go.”

Sitting behind a modest desk in an office cluttered with spreadsheets and assorted souvenirs from his tenure, Gipson reflected on a term as chief executive that saw Houchens transformed from a regional retail grocery company to a multibillion-dollar conglomerate that is among the largest employee-owned companies in the world.

“We’ve been very blessed,” said Gipson, 78. “We never bought a company just to get bigger, and we never intended to buy a company that wasn’t run by good people. If you do that, you’ll generally do well.”

An Edmonson County native who calls himself “a common person,” Gipson understates the impact he has made. Under his leadership, the company Ervin Houchens started in 1917 with a single Barren County grocery store today has more than 16,000 employees and annual revenue of more than $3 billion.

And it has diversified into manufacturing, insurance, hardware, food service, retail pharmacy, construction, recycling, trucking and more.

Now the mothership for such companies as Van Meter Insurance, Scotty’s Contracting & Stone, Stewart Richey Service Group, Crossroads IGA and Sheldon’s Express Pharmacy, Houchens has built wealth for itself and for the employees who have benefited from its 1988 conversion to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

“Becoming an ESOP is very gratifying,” Gipson said. “Years ago, we had a lady who worked in a Houchens store for 40 years. She had more than $480,000 in her retirement account. That’s life-changing for common people.”

Gipson’s tenure at Houchens has changed his life, but it doesn’t seem to have changed him.

Dressed in a simple zip-up vest and plaid shirt, Gipson joked that he is just a “country bumpkin” who was shy about approaching the big-city bankers who helped provide the funding to make the ESOP conversion possible.

Gipson, who earned an accounting degree at the former Bowling Green Business University, worked his way up through the Houchens ranks to become only the company’s third CEO after Ervin Houchens and his nephew Ruel Houchens.

A former bean counter who still uses the Lotus software he learned in the 1980s, Gipson dismisses trendy business leadership philosophies.

“I never read any business psychology books,” he said. “I do read the Bible, and I get a lot of wisdom from that.”

And, apparently, he gets a penchant for philanthropy.

During Gipson’s tenure as CEO, Houchens has been a huge benefactor to Western Kentucky University and to such nonprofit organizations as the Center for Courageous Kids, the Boys and Girls Club of Bowling Green, the Stuff the Bus Foundation and Junior Achievement.

“That’s just part of what you do as a company,” Gipson said of the philanthropic efforts.

Gipson may dismiss it as routine, but the impact he and Houchens have made isn’t lost on local business and government leaders.

“He has led Houchens through many changes over the years, all the while taking care of his employees,” Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said of Gipson. “He has been such an inspiration to our community in showing what entrepreneurial vision can be.”

Likewise, Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ron Bunch is well aware of the mark Gipson has made.

“You can’t overstate the amazing things Houchens has done in our community,” Bunch said. “From the economic impact to the philanthropy, we’re all indebted to Jimmie for his leadership.”

Like most of the decisions he has made over the years, Gipson’s decision to retire has been well-thought-out. He will be succeeded by Dion Houchins, the company’s executive vice president for the past 11 years.

“I knew him when he was a kid,” Gipson said of Houchins. “Me and his dad were best buddies in high school, and I’ve watched him grow over the last 20 years. He will do a great job.”

Houchins, 55, said the transition plan “has been in place for a while.”

“It’ll be different (when Gipson retires),” Houchins said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with Jimmie for 11 years. I know the culture, and I know the people. The two things I’ve learned from Jimmie are patience and the importance of loyalty. The company reflects that.”

After dedicating himself to Houchens Industries for more than a half-century, Gipson isn’t looking forward to his last day.

“It will be bittersweet,” he said. “I’ll miss the people and all the relationships. This has been my family.”

Logan, Allen County leaders discuss recycling programs
 Will Whaley  / 

Leaders in Logan and Allen counties discussed their local recycling programs in fiscal court meetings Tuesday, with Logan County renewing a solid waste collection contract with Scott Waste Services LLC to continue a recycling program for the next five years.

This renewal – which calls for one week each month when recycling is collected instead of garbage – did not come without concerns from Logan County Magistrates Thomas Bouldin and Tyler Davenport, who spoke about the cost of recycling in Logan County.

“When we went to our constituents and asked them about starting a recycling program, we never thought this would be a for-profit endeavour,” Bouldin said. “We did it on the basis that it took the product out of the waste stream that is not waste. … The community bought into that and they are expecting this program. Logan County wants to recycle. We don’t want to go back to the days to throwing everything in a landfill.”

“I don’t want to stop recycling, I think it’s a good thing,” Davenport said. “My family does. … We should do our due diligence to look at all options because the cost is concerning. There may be some options where we can continue to recycle. I think it would be good to know all the options.”

Pete Reckard, district manager for Scott Waste Services, spoke to magistrates about their options, saying the choice was up to the magistrates to make if they wanted to change what the waste service does in the county.

“They want to be good stewards and continue the program,” he said. “When we bid the program, they had asked us for different types of products. One was to have no recycling. One was the way we are doing it now, with one week of recycling and no trash. Once a month of recycling pickup and four weeks of trash, and I think we did every other week recycling pickup but still had four weeks of trash pickup.”

Reckard said further negotiations could still happen should fiscal court decide to change service plans.

Logan County Solid Waste Coordinator Nathan Cockrill said the experience with Scott Waste Services has been fine since the service agreement began in 2015.

“There may be some further discussions and we all may be talking about doing some things differently,” Cockrill said. “I sympathize with people who lose that week of trash service, but right now it is the only economically feasible way to recycle.”

Logan County Judge-Executive Logan Chick said he does not want to discontinue the recycling program.

“I just want to look at better ways where we can (allocate) some of our money,” said Chick. “I don’t know what those options are right now. We have talked to a few more recycler businesses. I think the majority wants to keep the recycling program going. We have to take into consideration our children and grandchildren and think about what kind of world we would leave them.”

Meanwhile, in Allen County, magistrates unanimously agreed to suspend plastic recycling.

“Since I have taken office a year ago, plastics have become next to impossible to get rid of,” Allen County Judge-Executive Dennis Harper said. “The main reason for this is we don’t want our citizens to think they are doing something good for the environment and the plastic ending up in the compactor and into the landfill. At this point we will suspend taking plastics until we can find a source to take those plastics from us.”

Harper said options have not been presented, but sources are being sought.

These recycling decisions come on the heels of Warren County’s recycling program ending curbside service in March. Southern Recycling has a contract until the end of the fiscal year to provide recycling pickup in Warren County, but the company is ending its curbside pickup early because the decline in the market for recyclables has the company losing about $30,000 per month.

Warren County residents, including in Bowling Green, currently pay $2.65 a month for recycling. To fully fund the service, Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said customers would probably have to pay $12 to $18 a month. He said that increase would be more than the average resident would want to pay. He said the county is actively “looking for alternatives” for recycling in the county.

Both the Logan and Allen county recycling programs are services offered through the county and do not charge the citizens directly, according to county leaders.

Driver in Scottsville Road crash sentenced to 20 years
 Justin Story  / 

A Florida resident involved in a crash that broadsided a truck at a busy Bowling Green intersection and injured two people was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Brett Ray, 49, was sentenced Monday by Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence and third-degree criminal mischief.

Ray was arrested shortly after midnight Aug. 4, 2018, following a crash that injured Madison Miller of Lewisburg and Bruce Cornett of Russellville.

“This was a situation where on video (Ray) blew through a red light ... at a very high traffic time, struck the vehicle broadside and caused significant injury to both victims in this case,” Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said in video of the sentencing hearing.

According to an arrest citation, Officer Ed Pulley of the Bowling Green Police Department was in a parking lot of a Lovers Lane business when he heard two separate “very loud collisions coming from the area of Scottsville Road and Lovers Lane.”

The officer found a red truck with heavy damage to its right side and smoke coming from it in the grass just off the intersection and encountered Cornett, who had blood coming from his head, outside the vehicle.

Inside the truck in the passenger seat was Miller, who was unconscious and had suffered severe head trauma, according to the arrest citation.

Cornett reported that he was driving south on Scottsville Road and had a green light when his truck was struck “extremely hard” on the passenger side as it traveled through the Lovers Lane intersection.

Ray was accused of being intoxicated behind the wheel of the 2017 Dodge pickup truck that crashed into the truck carrying Cornett and Miller.

“Witnesses stated Ray’s vehicle continued traveling at a high rate of speed after the collision and ran over several street signs and a park bench before finally stopping after striking the (CVS) pharmacy,” the citation stated.

Ray performed one field sobriety test before telling police he had pain in his right leg, and he was taken to a hospital.

Ray was provided with his cellphone, during which time he made multiple phone calls in which he told people he was drinking and driving, was involved in a crash and had “screwed up,” court records show.

Miller underwent several hours of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, according to court records.

Brett Ray