Good afternoon and thank you for being here. I want to discuss with you my plans for Kentucky and solicit your advice and assistance in achieving my goals.
My stated objective for my tenure as governor is to build a foundation upon which we as a people can create a society where our standard of living and quality of life will be on a par with the rest of the nation. I believe this goal can be achieved in about twenty years.
My stated goal of a better standard of living and quality of life for the people of Kentucky includes many elements, some of which are: personal income, cost of living, education, the safety of our communities, the general level of health of our people, the recreational and cultural opportunities available to our citizens, and other issues which we're addressing.
I'm pleased with our progress after little more than a year in office. An efficient, responsive and financially sound state government is essential to our progress as a people and we're working on that every day. We submitted and secured the passage of a structurally balanced budget based on sound and conservative estimates of revenue and expenditures and we intend to continue this practice so long as I hold this office. We intend to stop the practice of enacting unrealistic budgets requiring the executive branch of government to make arbitrary budget cuts which causes us to have a public policy different from that enacted by the people's representatives in the legislature. Budget deficits and cuts have been the practice in Kentucky for at least a dozen years.
We're pursuing our Empower Kentucky initiative which will result in increases in efficiencies in the magnitude of $150 million a year while making significant improvements in the delivery of services to our people.
We've begun major initiatives in the areas of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and juvenile crime.
We addressed the issue of health care delivery although I must concede that we haven't solved this problem. We'll continue to pursue improvements in this area.
We're addressing Medicaid and welfare reform.
We have groups of people studying the issues of rural water, rural roads, electric power industry deregulation, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and the harmful effects of the timbering industry.
We're continuing to look for improvements in our elementary and secondary schools and I'm totally engrossed in the subject of higher education.
We're placing a particular emphasis on Eastern Kentucky because this area of the state is where we have some of our most serious problems with standard of living and quality of life.
Through the Kentucky Appalachian Commission we're trying to coordinate our resources to work towards the accomplishment of clear-cut goals for this region. Fundamental to solving the problems of Eastern Kentucky is the maintenance of a strong and growing coal industry.
We're continuing to pursue an aggressive economic development program to give our people the opportunity to get a better job.
We're working on a host of fronts.
Our goal is lofty; reaching it requires focus and determination and courage. We must do what's right, even when we're opposed by politically powerful special interests.
I don't intend to be critical of people who have a special interest to pursue and who protect their special interest. I do ask them to place the overall public interest above their own interests. That's what makes us a society, the willingness to sacrifice in one area so that overall society can prosper with the realization that we as individuals are not an island but rather a part of a large group of people working as a unit to be more productive.
Most of us at times get frustrated with government, especially the taxes we have to pay.
None of us like to pay taxes and we all would like to pay less, but most of us realize that we established our government so that we could have things that we know we must have to prosper as a society, that we can have only or at least best acting together through government, things like schools, roads, police and fire protection, courts and prisons, and a basic framework of rules so we can function as a society in a fair, efficient and orderly manner.
The vast majority of our tax money goes for those kinds of basic services that all of us would agree are necessary functions of government.
As frustrated as we all get with government at times, government is essential for us to operate efficiently as a society.
Without government we would all be hunter/gatherers in a primitive society.
As I ponder the future of Kentucky, I often speculate why, after beginning our joint venture as a state as the leader in the mid west - the most advanced society west of the Alleghenies, did we fall so far behind? I conclude it was because our government failed us. For a hundred years after the Civil War, we lived for today and failed to invest in the future. We didn't invest in basic infrastructure like roads, water and sewers. And we didn't invest in our people with education. Let the same thing not be said of us a hundred years from now.
The fact is that our state government is the basic instrument we have to guide us to a more prosperous future within the opportunities afforded us by being a part of the United States.
It's my firm belief that given the proper framework to work within, the people of Kentucky will seize the opportunity and build that better future. I believe that all most Kentuckians want is a better opportunity.
Providing opportunity to our people is the reason I developed a tax increment financing program which allows the state of Kentucky to form partnerships with businesses to create jobs for people. It is the reason I am going to tackle higher education to ensure that Kentuckians have the mental skills we must have to compete and win in a changing global economy,
And that's the reason I tackled workers' compensation - to eliminate unjustified costs which were making Kentucky businesses, particularly coal, less competitive than they could be.
These are some of the more high-profile topics that I have or will address, but making this state a better place to live involves a host of different actions, large and small, which affect people's lives.
In fact, the safety and security of our people and their property is the original and fundamental responsibility of our state government. As we address our capital investment programs, we cannot forget our obligations to the most vulnerable among us.
America is not a society that will allow people, particularly children, to die on our streets because of a lack of food, shelter, or health care. We are not a society that will long deny people basic services, like water and sewer, which are still unavailable to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians.
We are not a society which will allow our roads or our factories or our mines to kill or maim our people solely for the sake of profit.
We are not a society which will tolerate escalating juvenile crime, domestic violence and child abuse.
We will not allow these injustices because they rob our people of the basic opportunity guaranteed all citizens - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As we tackle these issues, we'll be challenged to effectively manage our valuable resources - our people, our forests, our waterways. We must not prosper today at the expense of the future. We must continue to grow our industrial economy and expand our industries based on our natural resources. Coal, oil, and natural gas are non-renewable resources so our challenge is to develop these assets without permanently damaging our environment. Our forests are a renewable resource and we must treat them that way.
As we maximize the use of our forests for economic and recreational purposes, we must be certain that we prevent over harvesting, and we must ensure that the opportunities our forests provide are not at the expense of our water and wildlife resources.
The same is true of our highway system. As we continue to improve our highways to create economic opportunity for our businesses and the working men and women of Kentucky, we must be certain that economic opportunities aren't gained at the expense of our most valuable resource - your employees, your neighbors, and your families who travel on these roads.
Yes, it's important that our roads are safe. And, we have the opportunity to make them much safer.
That's why I called you here today, to talk about the safety of our highways, particularly here in Eastern Kentucky. We have a problem. The problem is overweight coal trucks. It's a problem that's been around for a long time, 50 years at least. And it's getting worse not better.
It's a problem I'm very familiar with. I drive the roads every day, or at least I did until I went to Frankfort five years ago, and I will again when I return home after my service in Frankfort is finished. But I've also caused my share of overweight coal hauling during my twenty years in the coal business. In fact, I think it's safe to say that I never contracted to have a ton of coal hauled legally. I doubt if any of you have either. The basic problem is that we have no effective way to enforce the law. Hauling larger loads is cheaper, making a particular coal operation more competitive. It's natural for any company to look for the cheapest way to get any particular job done, especially when their competitors are doing it. It's irresponsible to do so at the expense of safety.
Who knows who started the practice of blatantly ignoring the laws of Kentucky designed to protect the roads of the state and the people who travel them? It doesn't really matter who started it, it's become a way of life.
Few coal companies have accepted this responsibility directly by owning the trucks and using their own employees to drive them because our legal system puts the burden of violating the laws on the driver of the vehicle, and that burden can be transferred to the employer if the employee has been ordered to violate the law. So in Eastern Kentucky most companies contract to have their coal hauled. The truck owner competes to get the contract by offering to haul for the lowest possible price. We tell ourselves, it's really not the coal company who's violating the law, it's the independent contractor. We may be able to tell ourselves that we haven't broken the law; but we have broken the trust of our neighbors who share the roads with us. We've created and condoned a climate in which the person who is least able to afford paying the price, the truck driver, finds himself the target of our legal system. The owner of the truck and his driver are local citizens, voters, trying the best they can to make a living and support their families.
The local courts just aren't going to fine these people, especially when everybody else is doing it.
The state can't solve this problem with the current law and court system, no matter how many police officers we send up here.
Let me assure you, I know all about the system and how it works. I've been around a long time. Thirty-eight years ago, when I first went to work in the coal industry, we were hauling overweight.
We were using two-and-a-half ton, single-axle trucks with reinforced frames and overload springs to haul 10 tons at a time. We were hauling 20 miles over a very large mountain, paying $.75 a ton for hauling coal that was selling for $4.00. The trucks grossed 30,000 pounds, and the road had a load limit of 24,000 pounds, like most secondary roads did back then.
But it didn't take long for somebody to come up with a bigger truck. I remember very well when the first tandem came across the scales. It broke them. It was a green GMC tandem hauling 15 tons, grossing 45,000 pounds.
And then Ford started selling bigger trucks that would haul 20 tons. And then we discovered the Mack 600, it would haul 30 tons.
Next came the Mack 800, an off-the-road truck that would haul almost 40 tons. And then came the tractor-trailers and loads that gross 100 tons. There's just no limit. Somebody will always build a bigger truck and somebody will always buy it to get a competitive advantage.
As the weights kept increasing, we kept changing the laws to make them legal and hopefully stop the escalation of the weights. It didn't work because we keep placing the burden of obeying the law on the poor truck driver.
We've built better roads and they still get torn up, creating dangerous driving conditions, causing serious, sometimes fatal, accidents. Today, the average truck cited for being overweight in coal-producing counties is carrying 42,307 pounds over the legal limit. The roads in the extended weight coal haul system must be resurfaced twice as often as other roads. And most tragically, the capacity of the braking system to stop these large loads is taxed, causing trucks to be involved in fatal accidents which could have been avoided if the truck had been loaded at the weight prescribed by law.
The fatality rate on our coal haul roads is twice as high as other roads. Twice as many of your neighbors, friends, and family die because of this problem. Drivers have been sent to jai, truck owners bankrupted, Kentuckians killed.
It's just a matter of time before the manufacturer or the seller, or the coal company who contracted for the service, is going to held liable. There's going to be a lot of unemployed workers' compensation lawyers looking for and finding another line of work.
The time has come for all of us to play on the same level playing field. The time has come for us to make our roads safer. The time has come for our coal industry to stop hauling overweight.
But we can't solve this problem by just enforcing the laws on the books. Experience has shown that won't work. We have to change the law. We have to focus our efforts in a new direction. Only the companies contracting for the services can solve this problem.
A few weeks ago, when we tackled the workers' compensation problem, I told the trial lawyers of Kentucky that is wasn't right for Kentucky's coal operators to subsidize their practice. I told the legislature that it wasn't right that Kentucky's businesses were responsible for paying benefits to able-bodied workers. And today, I am telling you that it isn't right to place all the blame for the present threat to the safety and lives of our citizens upon the backs of the trucker hauling coal trying to support their family.
Just as we've leveled the playing field by changing our workers' compensation system and re-establishing economic viability to our businesses, we must also ensure that the economic opportunities we create are not at the expense of the safety of the citizens of this Commonwealth.
When I was in the coal business, I realized that the road we were using would only stand so much weight, and there was a limit to what could be safely hauled on the trucks we were contracting, and so I set a load limit over which we simply wouldn't pay the per ton hauling fee. My method was very effective. The drivers loaded their own trucks, and they learned really quick how to load the trucks to within a ton of our load limit.
Today, I'm here to ask you to do what is fair, to do what's right. If you instruct your trucking contractors to obey the law, and if you refuse to pay them when they haul coal above the legal limit, we can solve this problem.
Not only will we solve the safety problems, but we'll ensure a level playing field among you, the individuals competing in this industry. If we all play by the same rules, and obey those rules, we'll all win. And this victory will not be at the expense of the driver trying to support his family or be tainted by the tragic loss of our friends and family members in needless, preventable accidents.
When I was in the coal business, I wanted to operate a safe mine, a mine that protected the environment and served Eastern Kentuckians. But I had to compete with people who weren't as concerned about their employees or their neighbors. That's why I supported reasonable safety and environmental laws and fought those which went too far.
Let me remind you that I was personally involved on behalf of the coal industry in every major legislative battle the industry was involved in from the enactment of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety act of 1969 to the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977 including the coal severance tax in 1972 and the revision of the Kentucky coal mining safety laws in 1976 following the Scotia mine explosion.
I was involved in every change in the workers' compensation system, in the regulations implementing these laws and in the battles to control overweight coal hauling.
At times, I really believed that the government was going to put me and a lot of my colleagues out of business. I've been there, I've done that, I've bought a T-shirt. But one thing we always lost sight of in the heat of battle was the ability, ingenuity, and determination of the Kentucky coal miner and the Kentucky coal operator to survive. I got out of the business in 1979 partly because I feared for the future of the industry. I'm amazed at the productivity and safety record of the industry today. It's a different industry than it was 18 years ago, different technology and different people. I recognize few of the faces in this audience today. Eighteen years ago I would have known almost every one of you personally.
I know that many of you believe that to pay the additional money which will be required to reduce loaded weights will put you out of business, and on an individual basis that may be true. But the industry will still go on. Just as much coal will be mined. Just as many coal miners will be working. More coal trucks will be operating.
To the coal truckers in the audience, the effects of my actions will not change your income for better of for worse. You're engaged in the most competitive business in the world. Trucks are mobile and can go wherever the work is. Some other trucker will always be out there willing to cut the price a nickel to get your haul. The companies will still pay what the market demands to get their coal hauled, and not a penny more.
In one way you'll be better off. Our solution is not to put more police officers up here to haul more of you into court. The responsibility to ensure that trucks are loaded correctly must be placed directly on the companies which are benefiting financially from the increased efficiency of hauling overweight, the coal company contracting to have the coal hauled. But the operation of the trucks on our highways is a direct responsibility of the owners and operators.
Let me remind the truck drivers that you are directly and individually responsible for the speed of your trucks, a direct factor in the safety of our roads.
To the owners and drivers of the trucks, you are individually and collectively responsible for the mechanical safety of the trucks - the brakes the lights, the tires, and the other features intended to make these vehicles safe for use on our highways intermingled with the passenger cars carrying our children and parents. Our highways aren't intended for your preferred use just because you're the biggest, least vulnerable vehicle hurling down the highway.
In fact, those very characteristics place upon you a greater burden to protect other users of our roads.
I heard last week of an elderly person killed in a collision with a coal truck. From what I understand about the accident, one could conclude that fault was that of the old man who pulled out in front of the coal truck which couldn't stop. The truck driver wasn't cited. It was the eighth person killed at that intersection in recent years, more than half of them killed in collisions with coal trucks.
As one reaching the age when our senses aren't as sharp as they once were, I have a little sympathy for older people who still want to drive even though they wouldn't fare too well in the Indianapolis 500. I also have little sympathy for the young person who hasn't matured enough to realize how dangerous the highways are or hasn't developed the skill needed to avoid dangerous situations. I have a little sympathy for the mother who is temporarily distracted by a child in the car. We're all responsible for correcting as best we can the errors of others.
Coal truck drivers are professionals, in the prime of life, trained and certified to operate dangerous vehicles on our public highways. An extra responsibility goes along with that professionalism. I want all of our professional truck drivers to realize that and I expect them to act accordingly.
Our police officers, the Kentucky State Police and the Division of Motor Vehicle Enforcement will be working with you to help you act in a completely professional manner and they will insure you that you won't have to compete with other truckers that try to get a competitive advantage by skirting the law. Everybody should compete on a level playing field that puts the safety of the people using our highways first. Our laws are intended to protect the public and give everybody a level field to compete on. It is our responsibility in state government to enforce those laws. We'll live up to our responsibility. I know most of you will, too.
I ask the owners and drivers of the trucks to ensure their safe operation. I ask the coal industry to ensure that the trucks aren't overloaded.
I have some ideas about how that can be done but I want the coal companies to come up with a proposed program to achieve the desired results. I want it to be as simple, as inexpensive, and as unintrusive as it can be but I also want it to work without a great big hassle.
I believe you all are best qualified to design that program. I ask you to form a representative group to work with Secretary of Transportation Jim Codell and Commissioner of Motor Vehicle Regulation Ed Logsdon to draft a law.
I've got a lot of other things I need to be working on.
I know that it's going to cost more money but I can assure you that on an industry-wide basis, it's not going to cost nearly as much as the industry is going to save in reduced workers' compensation costs.
That's the reason I'm moving on this issue now. Let's not allow more companies to start mining coal which can only be mined because of the reduced cost of overweight hauling. I don't claim that this increased cost won't put somebody who's now mining coal out of business. I am convinced that overall coal production in Kentucky won't be affected.
Based on my experience, I don't expect universal voluntary compliance. I don't expect those few who aren't as concerned about their employees and neighbors as they should be to voluntarily reduce their loads. I think most of the coal companies in this state want to solve this problem, but I also know you can't do it as individual companies. That is why I'll be proposing some kind of legislation to be considered no later than the 1998 regular session of the General Assembly but I think the urgency of the situation indicates that a more appropriate time would be the special session I'll probably be calling this spring to consider higher education.
The thrust of this legislation must place the responsibility for overweight hauling on the entity which owns the coal. I solicit your support and I can assure you that my reason for doing this is to protect the people of Eastern Kentucky and the coal companies they depend on for a living.
I'm asking the responsible segment of the industry
- which is today the large majority - to join with me in this
effort because it's the right thing to do and the time to do it