At an event in Louisville Tuesday morning, the gubernatorial campaign of Democrats Jack Conway and Sannie Overly released its jobs plan, which mostly calls for continuing or expanding existing programs to help attract businesses and train workers, while not raising taxes.
Though the plan proposes expanding tax breaks and increasing investment in infrastructure, education, and job training, it provides little to no detail on where such funding would come from, as the state budget continues to face shortfalls and increased obligations to pay for public pensions, Medicaid, and education.
The Conway campaign’s plan notes that Kentucky is “starting to turn the corner after economic turmoil” and mostly consists of keeping or strengthening what is already working by “bringing people together” and “making government do more with less.” It also calls for “a renewed wave of support” for homegrown industries, such as agriculture, advanced manufacturing, logistics, mining, tourism, horses, health care, aerospace, and bourbon.
While the jobs plan calls for strengthening local businesses and attracting new ones by “cutting red tape,” “eliminating needless regulatory barriers to growth,” “new strategies,” “bringing antiquated laws up to date,” devising plans and reviewing existing policies, rarely does it give any specific details on what those are. Conway’s campaign also calls for increasing investment in broadband, transportation, early childhood education, and a statewide apprenticeship program, but notes that “as a strong fiscal conservative, I’ll continue to hold the line on taxes.”
One specific policy in the plan is Conway’s call for phasing out the state inventory tax within his first term. He says the tax is an impediment to Kentucky becoming a top state for logistics and distribution. The plan notes that this would cause “relatively small revenue loss to the state,” but did not give specific figures. Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget director Jane Driskell tells Insider Louisville that in the 2014 fiscal year, property tax revenue from the inventory tax was just shy of $10 million.
The plan also says Conway will “fight for Kentucky coal,” detailing his lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency and vowing to continue challenging environmental regulations. He adds that he’ll “work with the coal industry to seek new ways to make coal more economical to mine,” but provided no detail on what that would entail.
For transportation infrastructure, Conway calls for public private partnerships, which will “allow us to stretch public dollars to immediately put people to work on projects we must complete.” While noting that the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce supports allowing P3s on transportation projects, such legislation has faced a roadblock in Frankfort in recent years over the possibility of bridge tolls in northern Kentucky, which was not mentioned in the plan.
Conway calls for the creation of a new cabinet-level Office of Small Business Advocacy to be a liaison with small business owners. He says the office would be funded by “eliminating existing state government inefficiencies,” which are not specified. He adds that he will place new consumer protections on unregulated predatory business lenders to make loan terms more transparent, as well as “launch a public awareness campaign about these risky loans.” The plan does not specify what those protections are and whether they will require legislation.
In order to create a more skilled and educated workforce, Conway says he will “aggressively expand existing successful apprenticeship programs,” such as the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, and “look for ways to replicate them” in high-growth industries that are looking for talent. While saying that he wants to continue collaborating with KCTCS to meet a “goal of being the first state in the nation to have a coordinated, multi-industry, statewide apprenticeship program,” no dollar figure is attached to such ambition.
As for education, Conway says he’ll “make access to high-quality early childhood education a priority” and “aim to increase Kentucky’s college graduation rate to the national average,” but the plan did not include how much such goals would cost to implement.
Following the release of the plan Tuesday morning at the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery in Shively, Conway and Overly took a tour of the facility. Although Conway was offered a bourbon tasting, he only sniffed it, later saying that he had a busy schedule for the rest of the day and did not want to start drinking at 10 a.m.
Conway and Overly will face the Republican ticket of Matt Bevin and Jenean Hampton this fall. Bevin released a jobs plan during his primary campaign that called for so-called “right-to-work” legislation, cutting taxes, moving state workers to private retirement accounts, and ending Medicaid expansion and the state’s health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act, through which more than 400,000 Kentuckians now have health insurance.