The War on Carp in Kentucky is funded again, to the tune of $11 million.
On Friday, the state House of Representative passed a spending plan that restores $5.5 million each of the next two years to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resource's fight against the invasive species. The money, which comes from boat registration fees, had been shifted away from the agency in Gov. Andy Beshear's proposed budget.
"I've not spoken to a single person who thought that was a good idea," said state Rep. Chris Freeland, R-Benton, who represents Lyon and Marshall counties, where the local economies rely heavily upon tourism and fishing on the lakes.
Freeland was among lawmakers in the Republican majority House who approved the $23.4 billion biennial budget, 86-10.
Late last month, Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White first called out the missing Asian carp monies from Fish and Wildlife's proposed funding. That money comes strictly from boat registration fees, which were increased in 2018, in part, to battle the carp's growing numbers in the state's waterways, particularly Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.
By outcompeting sport fish and its behavior of jumping high out of the water when startled, the Asian carp threatens to hinder the attraction of the lakes. The $11 million is important to continue subsidies for fisherman who have removed more than 6 million pounds of carp from Kentucky waters and maintain barriers below the two local dams that prevent the fish from entering the lakes.
Freeland said the fish and wildlife agency is self-sufficient, pulling no money from general fund tax revenue. He adds that it is unheard of to pull money from the department's own revenue to fund other state projects.
"To my knowledge, that's never been done before," the first-term lawmaker said.
The governor's office denied sweeping funds from the fight against Asian carp. In a statement released by Beshear's Deputy Communications Director Sebastian Kitchen, the administration claimed to increase funding.
Freeland, though, said the governor's budget called on federal monies to bump funding for Fish and Wildlife. In an audio recording from a recent House budget subcommittee Freeland made available to the public, Kentucky Tourism Secretary Mike Berry testified the budget proposed by the executive branch did transfer $5.5 million annually out of boat licensing funds.
White is ecstatic about restoration of money to escalate the effort to control the carp population in western Kentucky waters. He credited Freeland and other lawmakers who fought to get the money put back in, as well as citizens who let their voice be heard on a matter important to the region.
"We have had very good results (for) our efforts," he said.
No local economy in Kentucky relies upon tourism more than Lyon County. And Freeland adds the Asian carp threatens the state's $1.3 billion fishing industry. He also said a decline in tourism on the lakes could affect property values and, in turn, reduce tax revenue to local governments, including school districts.
The biennial spending plan now heads to the GOP-controlled Senate, which Freeland believes will leave the carp money intact. However, the governor, a Democrat, still holds veto power over the budget. White feels vindicated by the release of the subcommittee audio. In the same statement that Kitchen denied the funding shift, he also accused the judge-executive of spreading false claims against the governor.
"My integrity means a lot to me, and it was taken to task," White said, "But the facts helped show we were correct."
White insists the fight for the Asian carp money was not personal and invites Beshear to join him to see the detrimental effects of the carp.
"We want our governor to be working alongside us all in western Kentucky, and I hope that will happen," he said.