Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First debate with Beshear focuses on jobs and the economy

By Rachel Bryant, Lauren Forsythe and Sara Jean Burton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The invisible governor has appeared. Gov. Steve Beshear participated in a televised debate Tuesday night, the first with all three candidates for his job in attendance. The discussion at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts in Richmond focused on jobs and the future of the state's economy.

"The governor wants to keep emphasizing incentives," state Senate President David Williams said. "You have to take a broader look at our unemployment situation," the Republican said, adding, "You have to change the tax system, the unemployment insurance system, the tort reform system." Williams said the state should abolish income taxes and raise consumption taxes.

Beshear said in rebuttal, “Our economic incentives programs are obviously working because it bothers these two guys tremendously to even talk about it." At two points, he noted that Williams' father-in-law is creating 25 jobs with the incentive plan Beshear pushed through the legislature, and "I even got Senator Williams to vote for it.”

Independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith sided with his GOP opponent. He said the government is rewarding companies that pay $8 an hour to their employes, and "They are going to be on food stamps."

Among the many topics of disagreement were tuition increases for higher education. Beshear said he would keep trying to hold down tuition if re-elected. “No Kentuckian ought to be denied higher education because of cost and we’re getting close to that,” he said, adding that in the nine times he has cut the state budget he has never cut or lottery-funded KEES scholarships.

Williams said the cost of higher education in Kentucky is still a “good deal” compared to other states, and said Beshear had proposed “a significant cut to higher education” in 2008 and wanted to pay for the scholarships by borrowing money.

Galbraith said he supports a tuition freeze and would implement the “Commonwealth Incentive,” giving each high school graduate a $5,000 voucher to be used towards higher education expenses. He focused more on the importance of technical education, saying "Someone who can fix a transmission is going to be more valuable than someone with a degree in English lit."

Galbraith disagreed with the major-party candidates about mountaintop-removal strip mining of coal, which he called "overly destructive." Williams said "I support mountaintop removal" because using coal keeps Kentucky’s electricity costs low and helps the state compete for manufacturing jobs.

Beshear said likewise, but he said mountaintop removal should be done in an environmentally friendly way. He noted the law generally requires reclamation to the approximate original contour, except "when you can show a better and higher use for the land … for things like hospitals, airports, subdivisions and the like … . In those limited circumstances we should allow it." (Only about 3 percent of such sites are actually developed.)

The expansion of gambling in Kentucky was another topic of conflict. Williams said he was opposed to an expansion of gambling. “Slot machines are the worst enemies of folks at racetracks,” he said.

Beshear and Galbraith both said more gambling in Kentucky would bring more money to the state and help the horse industry, which Beshear said the state could lose because other states have slot machines at racetracks, or full-scale casinos.

“We’ve got folks going across the river to spend their entertainment money, including Senator Williams,” Beshear said. Williams has said that he no longer visits casinos.

Williams said he supports taking pseudoephedrine off of drugstore shelves to crack down on methamphetamine, which is made with the drug. Beshear talked about prescription drug abuse but did not take a position on pseudoephedrine. Galbraith said that if elected he would sue the pharmaceutical companies for money to be used towards rehabilitation services, and said money should not be spent on arresting college students for smoking marijuana but instead spent on more serious drug problems.

The debate was sponsored by the Kentucky Broadcasters Association and the League of Women Voters. It was broadcast in most Kentucky TV markets and on more than 100 radio stations. The candidates are scheduled to share a stage one more time, on Oct. 31 at KET.

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