In his opinion, it was likely the best thing state legislators accomplished during the recent Kentucky General Assembly session.

They “really push(ed) money into building out the last mile of rural broadband,” observed Kentucky Sen. Jason Howell, who represents District 1 in the state legislature.

“We’ve always known for years that we needed to do this,” said Howell, a featured speaker at a legislative appreciation dinner hosted June 29 by Trigg County Farm Bureau.

The dinner took place at the Renaissance Center in Cadiz and also included comments from Kyle Kelly, the director of national affairs for the Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Trigg County Farm Bureau President Donovan Washer said the annual event features speakers with ties to western Kentucky and conversations usually focused on rural and agricultural life in the region.

It’s an opportunity for people to talk with those who represent them, he said, explaining that’s something he likes about the dinner.

“Really, I was just glad that a lot of people in the room got to meet Mr. Jason,” Washer noted of Howell, who replaced Cadiz resident and former Trigg County judge-executive Stan Humphries in the Kentucky Senate.

Humphries was among those at the dinner.

Speaking on behalf of the efforts for broadband in the state, Howell noted that rural electric cooperatives are likely the ones who will finish out implementation of the “last mile” of broadband in most areas of rural Kentucky.

They have the infrastructure, i.e., the poles, needed to bring it to fruition, he said.

Additionally, those cooperatives are already in contact with prospective broadband clients, Howell said, noting that 99.9% of the people who have electricity want internet access.

The senator also spoke of KY Wired, the projected touted to provide the last mile of broadband in Kentucky. Howell noted that KY Wired won’t do what it said it would, won’t pay for itself and will cost the state a lot of money.

“We are stuck with this price tag for 26 more years, I think it is,” the senator observed.

He said the decision he believes has been made is to work with that project “as much as we can,” get as much out of the project as possible and go from there, Howell noted.

The senator said the only thing the state can do about KY Wired is “grin and bear it, make the best we can out of it and see if we can fit this KY Wired piece into a framework of what we’re trying to do to build out the last mile.”

Howell also noted that tax reform was a big issue during this past legislative session.

In a time when he said more electric vehicles seem to be on the horizon, the senator said it’s important to consider how improvements to roads will be taken care of when these vehicles don’t use gasoline — typically a source of funds through the gas tax for repairing the west and tear that is caused by vehicles.

He noted that officials have to do something to keep up with infrastructure needs; some bridges in the state, for example, are not built to support a load of grain bins

“We’re one bad timing to having an infrastructure problem,” Howell said.

Kelly too touched on several items during the dinner, among other things considering tax reform and a need to broaden the base, specifically the gas tax and electronic vehicles.

“From a federal standpoint, we’re talking about a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that’s making its way through,” he noted.

Kelly said proposals going through Congress right now are proposing as much as $100 billion to go toward electric vehicle infrastructure, and “we’re getting zero dollars from electric vehicles,” he explained.

Kelly noted that states like Indiana are charging a flat fee for electric vehicles. But that’s not happening in Kentucky, and Kelly said that is something to address in the future.

He also noted that his agency’s priority for decades has been the 22.2% of road funds that go toward rural secondary roads, and he said that will continue to be the priority.

“That will remain our priority through any type of gas tax legislation will be to make sure that rural secondary roads get that 22.2%,” he said.

At the national level, Kelly said Farm Bureau will continue to monitor an infrastructure package moving through Congress that adds $570 billion in new spending to infrastructure.

The package is focused on broadband infrastructure, roads, bridges and lock and dam replacement, according to Kelly.

Kelly said one proposal in the original infrastructure plan eliminates stepped up basis, a measure allowing farmers who are handing down their farms to step up the basis of their farms before paying an inheritance tax.

“That would be devastating to farms,” he said of plans to eliminate stepped up basis.

“If you eliminate stepped up basis (one study done by American Farm Bureau with Texas A&M University) showed that about 98% of farms that were in that study would be affected by eliminating stepped up basis,” he continued, noting that Farm Bureau is working with lawmakers to ensure that won’t happen.

“It would be devastating to family farmers that are looking to hand down that farmland.”

Kelly also talked about an announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers that they were considering repealing and replacing the

Navigable Waters Protection Rule.

The rule just went into effect last year.

But a brief filed recently by one Massachusetts senator, while keeping the rule as it is, also gives lawmakers the opportunity to repeal and replace it, according to Kelly.

“We’ve fought it for the last six years, seven years,” he noted. “Here it is again.”

Kelly described the rule as a political football from one administration to the next, and while he said navigable waterways might be regulated by the federal government, “mud puddles on your farm shouldn’t be,” he said.

“We are conservationists,” Kelly noted of Farm Bureau. “We understand we’ve got to have safe water. We want that.

“We do everything we can,” he continued. “We ensure that water is safe, but that’s going to be a fight to ensure that there’s no over-reaching regulations on this new ‘Waters of the US’ rule.”

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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