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Round-Up: Wednesday Morning January 2

Check out what's making news locally and across the state.

SOUTH COVINGTON HOME LOST IN FIRE 

A family on Sugar Camp Road lost their home Monday morning to fire. Full story: WCPO

REP. SIMPSON: "I THINK I'M IN THE GAME"

Democratic State Representative Arnold Simpson of Covington will face a tough test next week when he challenges a fellow Democrat for a leadership position. Simpson made it public that he will challenge House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark of Louisville:

Simpson said his decision was motivated by a desire to see a change in direction, too, and he said he’s concerned about “the decline in our numbers.” Republicans picked up four seats in the House in the fall elections and now have a total of 44 seats to Democrats’ 55. (There is one vacancy, created by Rep. Sara Beth Gregory’s election to the Senate, but the 52nd District is heavily Republican and the GOP is likely to retain that seat in a special election.)

Simpson said the Kentucky House is “one of the last stands” for Democrats in southern state legislatures which have steadily gone Republican over the past 15 years.

“Unless we change our direction, I sense we could lose our majority in the next election or so,” Simpson said.

Like Bell, Simpson said he wants a less “top-down” system of making decisions.

Full story: Richmond Register/Ronnie Ellis

CITY'S NEXT FISCAL CRISIS MAY INVOLVE PENSION CONTRIBUTIONS

Kentucky cities are preparing to see their budgets hit by the state's pension troubles:

 

Despite roughly $27 million in net assets, a $7 million cash reserve and an AA- credit rating, the city of Hopkinsville, Ky., could be broke in less than two years — at least on paper.

That’s because new accounting rules that take effect July 1, 2014, require Kentucky and its 1,500 local governments, public agencies and other public employers that pay into the state retirement system, to reflect their portion of Kentucky’s massive pension debt on their financial documents.

That means that Hopkinsville, for example, will have to show an estimated $36 million pension debt, while cities such as Louisville and Lexington will be saddled with an accounting debt of $823 million and $191 million, respectively.

Full story: Courier-Journal/Mike Wynn

Covington City Commissioner Steve Frank weighed in on the article in a public post at his Facebook page, writing, "Exactly what I've been warning about. By the State's sloppy math, Covington's off balance sheet liability for CERS pensions is $75,000,000. The way it ought to be accounted or the liability is vloser to $110,000,000 dollars."

Meanwhile. at least one official thinks the state's pension system can be saved:

 

If the General Assembly and Gov. Steve Beshear make the state’s full payments into the Kentucky Retirement System, the financially shaky funds are “not going to be in any trouble of being insolvent,” the system’s executive director said.

Bill Thielen, executive director of the Kentucky Retirement System, said the recommendation by the legislative task force on pensions to divert an extra $300 million between 2014 and 2015 to make the full payment is a huge first step. The payment would jump from more than $500 million to $800 million.

Full story: CN|2/Ryan Alessi

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT WON'T SUPPORT HOLDING BACK 3RD GRADERS

A big effort locally is underway to ensure that all students are reading at grade-level before they complete the third grade. Democratic State Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville is crafting legislation that would hold back third grade students who are not reading at grade-level. Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says he will not support that:

 

Jenkins says she’s looking at Ohio’s law, which focuses on interventions as early as kindergarten, and includes a provision allowing some students--like English language learners--not reading at grade level to continue on.

But Holliday says there’s no research to prove the laws are successful and the education department will not support it. While he does say it’s important to have interventions in place for young students who struggle to read, Kentucky already has those rules in place. 

Full story: WFPL/Devin Katayama

quick news & notes:

Sen. McConnell, Vice President Biden rescued "fiscal cliff" talks Politico

Kentucky program promotes farming for veterans Herald-Leader

Somebody painted the letters KKK all over the stop signs in a small Kentucky town WLWT

Artifacts help pinpoint key Hatfield-McCoy battle in Kentucky Associated Press

Did Kentucky inspire "Middle Earth" in Tolkien's Hobbit stories? Herald-Leader