Kentucky has one of the nation’s worst economies.
It’s the only state that’s facing a $3.5 billion deficit.
A recent report from the American Enterprise Institute showed Kentucky’s population has dropped to fewer than 6.3 million, down from 10.7 million in 2000.
A lot of the decline was due to population loss, but the report also pointed to rising housing costs, which have pushed up costs of living.
“Kentucky’s population is down, its unemployment is up, and its poverty rate is up.
And those are the kinds of things that we need to be focused on,” Rep. John Fleming, R-Jefferson, told ABC News.
He introduced the House’s bill to restore the Kentucky Zoo’s funding to $9 million, which would allow the zoo to open next summer.
The zoo has been shuttered since 2008, when a fire in its main exhibit sparked an evacuation of the animals.
The fire was blamed on a faulty air conditioner.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) is tasked with ensuring that the Kentucky Wildlife Conservation and Education Center (KWCEC) continues to operate as planned, including keeping the Kentucky Aquarium in operation and ensuring that Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (KFWCC) is allowed to keep its habitat and waterway.
But some conservationists believe the zoo should be shuttered.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s executive director said that “once again, the Kentucky Legislature is failing to adequately fund and maintain the state’s wildlife refuges, including the iconic Kentucky Zoo.”
Rep. Fleming said he is calling for the state to provide $5 million in new funding to the zoo and $10 million to help make sure the KWCEC remains operational.
“I’m hopeful that the KFWCC will continue to work to help Kentucky conservationists protect these magnificent habitats, and we can help Kentucky and Kentucky state parks thrive,” Fleming said.
The bill also seeks to increase state spending on the Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Conservation Program, which funds wildlife rehabilitation and research and provides grants to states.
It also seeks $25 million to allow KFWC to hire an environmental consultant to help manage the facility’s waterway and fish hatchery.
The KWCEE is a joint venture between the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources (KDNR) and the Kentucky Conservation Trust (KCT), a nonprofit conservation group.
The partnership is responsible for protecting the state parks and wildlife refugees in southern Kentucky.
“These parks are in really difficult financial situations right now,” Fleming told ABC affiliate WKYT.
“If we are not able to continue to provide our state parks with the resources they need to do the job of protecting them, then I think we will see some of these refugals going under.”
Read more stories from the Louisiana legislature.