Stivers speaks on Keeneland progress

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers wants to make one thing clear to everyone in the Tri-County area — Keeneland will be building a $30 million quarter horse racing facility in Corbin.Stivers speaks to ch#FB7102 web

Stivers (R-Manchester) gave that assurance as the featured speaker during the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce monthly membership luncheon Monday. The event was held at The Corbin Center.

Despite delays in the start of construction of the facility, Stivers set out to allay fears that the project was in peril or that it may be moving to another community.

“There is no deviation in what they want to do and where they want to do it,” Stivers told the crowd. “It’s just getting through the administrative process of getting the license. It’s not affected by anything else such as wet-dry votes or anything else.”

The city of London held a referendum on expanded alcohol sales Tuesday. There have been some fears the racing facility would locate somewhere in that city instead of in Corbin.

Plans for the facility hit a roadblock last month when Floyd County and Appalachian Racing were granted a temporary restraining order by Floyd Circuit Judge Johnny Ray Harris preventing the issuance of a license by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to Keeneland to operate the facility.

Floyd County attorney Keith Bartley had filed the lawsuit against the KHRC on behalf of Floyd County and Appalachian Racing, which owns a harness racing track in Prestonsburg. In it he is requesting that Keeneland be forced to assume the Prestonsburg license, and the $2.2 million worth of bonded indebtedness that goes with it, instead of being given an unassigned ninth license for its Corbin facility.

Originally, Keeneland had been negotiating with Floyd County for the license to its harness track. Keeneland’s facility in Corbin was going to be called Thunder Gap.

But that changed when Keeneland decided to change the name of its facility and instead go for the open license.

The KHRC had asked the Kentucky Court of Appeals in December to intervene immediately and lift the temporary restraining order so it could act on the license request from Keeneland Tuesday, but the appeals court declined the request, saying the board would likely win on its own.

Now, the Appeals Court will apparently hear the case.

Stivers said the Keeneland Association has “re-upped” its option to buy property for the facility in the Tri-County Industrial Park off the Corbin Bypass. He added that he was given assurances by Keeneland Association President and CEO  William Thomason Jr. and William Lear Jr., Chairman of the association’s board of directors that “it’s not a matter of if it comes, it’s just a matter of when it comes.”

During a question-and-answer portion of the luncheon, Stivers said he felt like the situation would be resolved “sometime in the next few months” in order to avoid lengthy litigation.

“I really think there is a lot of backroom noise about how can we resolve this,” Stivers said.

Stivers also spoke to members of the chamber about legislative priorities in the current session of the General Assembly.

He said newly elected governor Matt Bevin would set the tone Tuesday night during his budget address to a joint meeting of the Kentucky House and Senate. He said, in broad terms, Bevin plans to meet pension obligations to teachers and state workers, and is somewhat hamstrung by ongoing expenditures that will have to be made to support the Affordable Care Act. Bevin wants to dismantle the state health care exchange, called Kynect, and opt out of full expansion of Medicaid.

“So many landmines have been placed out there for withdrawing from it,” Stivers said.

He said the state is expecting between $800 and $900 million worth of revenue during the budget biennium, but is looking at about $1.5 million worth of expenditures.

“Just do the math. I see a very austere budget. Some people are going to have to figure out how to deal with it because we have to live within our means.”

Stivers said the top bill in the Kentucky Senate would be Senate Bill 1 that will reform the K-12 education system in Kentucky removing some of the “impediments and perceived impediments” associated with national “Common Core” standards.

“It will actually let teachers teach instead of teaching to a test,” Stivers said. He added that it would use the college and career readiness of a student as more a measure of educational success.

Stivers’ legislative district includes Whitley and Knox counties.