There was a story last week in SI about how a renovation has been proposed for the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena from 2014 through 2016, and blah blah blah we knew this already, right? So I stopped reading, and my bad, because it turns out that to pay for $2.5 million in planning and design costs, reports ThinkProgress’s Travis Waldron, Kentucky will divert money that’s supposed to help mining communities weather the end of the coal economy:
The so-called coal severance tax generates more than $200 million a year in revenues for Kentucky. Half of that revenue goes immediately into the state’s general fund. The other half is split between two separate accounts for reinvestment into coal-producing counties, with those investments aimed at funding economic development projects that aren’t related to coal, and to foster economic development partnerships between eastern Kentucky counties. In the past, it has funded the creation of industrial parks, road, water, and other infrastructure projects, and scholarship programs for students from coal country. It is meant to address a reality that is staring Kentucky in the face: coal won’t be there forever, and the counties whose mountains have produced it for more than a century need something to turn to when the coal either runs out or is no longer worth mining.
What it isn’t meant to do is build arenas in Lexington. “That’s not what this money is for,” Carrie Ray, a research associate at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, an organziation based in Berea, Kentucky, told me. “It’s not intended to build a basketball arena that’s nowhere close to the coalfields.”
As Waldron notes, $2.5 million is a small amount of the $100 million set aside from this fund, but still, $2.5 million. Plus, given that the official source of the $300 million in state funds needed to pay for the actual renovation is “we’ll get back to you,” $2.5 milliion could be just the tip of the coal seam.