Politics

Louisville Metro government is suing the state over legislation that earmarked Jefferson County’s share of mineral severance revenues for the Waterfront Botanical Gardens.

The lawsuit filed in Franklin Circuit Court on Monday alleges the state Legislature broke the law when it singled out Jefferson County’s share of funds for a specific cause.

Mayor Greg Fischer said it’s an issue of local control.

“The people of Louisville and their elected leaders know best how to get the maximum return on investments in our city,” Fischer said in a news release. “Singling out our city for this kind of earmark is wrong.”

Ordinarily, local governments can choose how to use the funds as long as it’s spent on certain priorities such as public safety, transportation, health, social services or environmental protection.

But budget legislation passed earlier this year singled out Jefferson County saying its share of funds “shall be used” for the Waterfront Botanical Gardens — a 23-acre, $63 million project with an opening planned for 2019.

Louisville Metro Government Councilman Bill Hollander said the language appeared during a conference committee meeting after both the House and the Senate passed the bill.

“My concern is, it’s not just this appropriation, but the precedent this begins to set,” he said. “For them to say ‘you need to spend it this way’ instead of letting the local officials decide how to spend it, it’s just wrong.”

The county’s share of funding for the next budget year hasn’t been set, but the funds amounted to $430,000 for the budget year that ends June 30, according to a news release.

The revenue comes from a 1980 tax on minerals extracted from Kentucky lands.

The Natural Resources Severance and Processing tax levies a 4.5 percent tax on the value of minerals including limestone and natural gas — though coal is exempt, according to state records.

County Attorney Mike O’Connell filed the suit on the city’s behalf arguing the legislature “singled out Jefferson County and discriminated against it by attempting to restrict its use.”

The Jefferson County Attorney’s office declined to comment citing pending litigation.

O’Connell’s goal is to reverse the Legislature’s decision and grant Jefferson County control over the funds, according to a news release.

This post has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.