Kentucky Politics

Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill that would take $410 million from the state’s rainy day fund to attract major companies that plan to invest at least $2 billion in the state.

The initiative is supported by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration, and identical versions of the bill unanimously passed out of Republican-led legislative committees on Wednesday.

The measure specifically mentions a vacant site in Hardin County that the state acquired in 2002 in a failed attempt to attract a Hyundai car plant to Kentucky. Hyundai ended up building a factory in Alabama.

But supporters of the bill won’t confirm what companies are interested in taking advantage of the incentive, or where they plan to build.

Rocky Adkins, a former state representative and special adviser to Beshear, said there are multiple companies looking to build in different parts of the state. He said the incentive would be a “game-changer.”

“This puts us in the game. This allows us to compete. This puts us in the future workforce, the future economy,” Adkins said.

The proposal isn’t the first time lawmakers have been asked to fund unnamed companies looking to move to the state.

In 2017, then-Gov. Matt Bevin convinced legislators to set aside $15 million to attract an anonymous company to northeastern Kentucky. The company was eventually revealed to be Braidy Industries, which had hopes of building an aluminum mill in Greenup County, but still hasn’t come to fruition.

Rep. Bart Rowland, a Republican from Tompkinsville, said he is more confident in the new initiative.

“We did a bill a few years ago that a lot of members had heartburn about for various reasons, but I feel a lot more comfortable about this,” Rowland said.

The bill would set aside $350 million to attract companies with forgivable loans from the state and $50 million to train workers, including a new Kentucky Community and Technical College at the site in Hardin County.

Another $10 million would go to pay off a loan the state took out to buy the property in 2002.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, a Democrat from Louisville, said she wants to learn more about the potential projects before throwing her support behind them.

“While we are all about jobs and economic development, we are also about fiscal responsibility and we are stewards of taxpayer money,” Kulkarni said.

Beshear asked lawmakers to set aside the money in his call for a special legislative session to primarily deal with the coronavirus, saying there are at least five companies looking to invest $2 billion or more in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s rainy day fund, which is used to prop up the state during financial downturns, currently sits at $1.9 billion.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.