The Harlan County Chamber of Commerce welcomed a speaker from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce during a meeting on Wednesday.
Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bryan Sunderland for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce spoke to the group, focusing on the state’s legislative agenda for advancing Kentucky businesses.
Sunderland told the group about the state chamber’s Four Pillars for Prosperity plan. The four aspects of the plan are:
• A healthy, skilled workforce;
• Sustainable stage government;
• 21st century infrastructure;
• Aggressive job Creation.
“Washington thinks they know what’s best,” Sunderland said. “They enact regulations – these EPA policies and things like that – they don’t see the damage that does to actual communities across this nation.”
Sunderland said the state chamber of commerce provides help in Frankfort for the business community by attempting to advance policies that make it easier for local businesses to grow.
Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley mentioned a key issue in Harlan’s economy is the downturn in the coal industry.
“Environmental regulation is what’s kind of yielded us,” Mosley said. “We have declined from about 30-plus mines at one point here in Harlan County down to single digits now.”
Mosley said there are currently five mines in operation in Harlan.
“The regulatory overreach is a big part of that,” said Mosley. “The natural gas market of course is another factor. The spot market on coal right now I think is around $45 a ton, and it was $95, $96 a ton.”
Mosley said the average cost to get coal out of the ground at this time is approximately $40 a ton.
“I think that’s consistent with why you see so many (mines) closed here,” Mosley said. “I was at the inauguration, and Gov. Bevin spoke about eliminating the death tax and inventory tax. How easily do you see that occurring?”
Sunderland answered eliminating those taxes would not be a simple or an easy thing to do.
“We’ve studied this tax code to death,” Sunderland said. “The big problem is the vast majority of that inventory tax is collected at the local levels. What happens is you get into the politics of if you take that source of revenue away from local governments to help fund the schools, what do you allow them to replace that with?”
Sunderland mentioned a possibility for replacing income lost by repealing inventory tax would be to raise property taxes.
“Do you go there?” asked Sunderland. “Those are hard political battles, because the General Assembly doesn’t want to let a local government raise taxes because they get the blame for the tax but they don’t get to spend the proceeds. So, it will be a real challenge.”
In other chamber activity:
• The Festival of the Mountain Masters was declared a success with 65 vendors on hand;
• It was announced 277 kids would benefit from this year’s Angel Tree program;
• The Harlan Christmas Parade winners were announced, with best children’s float going to Kelli Wilson, second place went to Rosspoint Dancers. Best religious float went to Rock Vine Baptist Church with second place going to Cornerstone Community. The chamber award went to Harlan Health and Rehab; best scout float went to Cub Scout Troop 149. The grand prize was awarded to Relay Stars (Relay for Life).
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde