Faced with a steep, ongoing decline in coal industry jobs on top of longstanding poverty and economic challenges, state leaders should act now to create an Appalachian Planning and Development Fund to better utilize severance tax dollars through a strategic economic development plan, according to a new brief from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED).
“Eastern Kentucky is full of promise, but past piecemeal efforts at economic diversification have kept us from realizing many of our opportunities,” said Justin Maxson, president of MACED. “A strategic plan without resources behind it is just a sheet of paper, and resources spent without a plan don’t add up to growth. The Appalachian Planning and Development Fund will combine a plan and long-term resources to advance economic development in the region.”
The proposed Appalachian Planning and Development Fund would oversee a broad strategic planning process that would emphasize community participation, accountability and democracy. The brief proposes that 25 percent of annual eastern Kentucky coal severance tax dollars be dedicated to the fund, with a portion used to begin implementing the plan’s development strategies and a portion set aside in a permanent endowment for future use. The majority of eastern Kentucky severance taxes would be spent on other pressing needs in coal-producing counties.
“The loss of so many coal jobs and our diminishing severance taxes are on everyone’s minds,” said Maxson. “As our resources become scarcer, it’s even more important that we spend them as wisely as possible. The longer we wait to act, the deeper the challenge becomes.”
Kentucky has a history of strategic planning and development bodies, from the Agricultural Development Fund to the now-defunct Kentucky Appalachian Commission. MACED’s brief outlines several in- and out-of-state models, and offers options for how an Appalachian Planning and Development Fund could be structured. To download the report, please visit http://bit.ly/appalfund.