The state budget, the economy and health care dominated a candidates’ forum last night between Kentucky’s gubernatorial candidates. For only the second time, Democrat Steve Beshear, who’s asking for another four year term, debated G-O-P Challenger David Williams and Independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith. The three gathered in the Lexington studio of Kentucky Educational Television.
Not surprisingly, the 90 minute debate began with a focus on jobs, possibly the top issue on voters’ minds. Senate President David Williams has suggested scrapping the state’s corporate and personal income taxes in favor of sales taxes. The Republican regular points to Tennessee’s tax system as a model for Kentucky. However, Governor Beshear says Kentucky’s unemployment rate is actually lower than the rate in Tennessee.
“If tax structure was the answer… to economic development…then why is Tennessee’s un-employment higher than ours,” said Beshear.
Williams shot back that jobs and people have migrated to the Volunteer State, at the expense of Kentucky.
“People have moved there by the tens and hundreds of thousands over the last decade… while they have changed their tax structure…have right to work…have an un-employment insurance plan,” said Williams.
The governor has long suggested now is not the time to change tax structure because of the fragile nature of the economy. Lexington Attorney Gatewood Galbraith, who’s running as an independent, argues the Commonwealth cannot afford to wait.
“We need tax reformation in this state…I called for a sales tax ..a consumption tax…I’m a practicing attorney…I’ve called on a new tax on me to tax my services,” added Galbraith.
One of the hungriest programs in terms of state funding is Medicaid. In 2009, the Kaiser Family Foundation says the state spent over one-billion dollars on Medicaid. Hoping to cut that cost, Beshear’s been promoting a privately-run system of managed care. During the forum, Beshear bragged on the system, which just went into effect.
“This is one of the proudest moments that Kentucky is gonna have in a while because we have taken our fee for service program, Medicaid, and we are moving it into a managed care model…a model that is gonna’ emphasize wellness..gonna emphasize preventive care…we brought the private sector in,” said Beshear.
Governor Beshear claims managed care will save the state 500-million dollars over the next three years. Williams said last night he’s not convinced.
“He hasn’t gotten it implemented…They say they’re gonna put it in tomorrow…a bunch of hospitals aren’t signed up…but no matter who signs up nobody with any sense believes that he can save 500 million dollars in three quarters of a year…it can’t be done,” said Williams.
Difficult budget times prompted the Governor to furlough state workers for six days last year. At the same time, in sympathy with state workers, the governor says he also took furlough days and a reduction in pay. But, Galbraith says such sacrifices mean more to the average working man and woman.
“Governor, I’m sure it’s a lot easier for a millionaire to take a ten percent pay cut than it is for these people living out there living paycheck to paycheck. Once again…it’s been the wage earner…the working people who have had to bear the brunt of caring this state forward on their shoulders,” added Galbraith.
Maybe more than any other issue, the idea of expanding gambling at Kentucky’s horse tracks’ has been the longest running, most acrimonious point of contention between Beshear and Williams. Beshear says the senate president has been an obstructionist.
“We did get a bill passed down there that would put slots at the tracks…He got it killed in committee…everybody knows he runs that place with an iron fist…the republican senators won’t balk..won’t go against him,” claimed Beshear.
A caller also quizzed Williams about his attitude on gambling . While opposing the installation of slot machines at race tracks, it’s been reported the senate president has visited out of state casinos. The caller wondered whether that amounted to a double standard.
“I do not gamble…I have not gambled for several years…I don’t hold it against anybody that does gamble…but I will tell you this..gambling is an issue for only one person on this panel right here,” explained Williams.
Williams maintains Governor Beshear has a one track mind on the expansion of gambling. The senate leader argues it’s not a stable source of state revenue, but adds he would support a vote by Kentuckians on a constitutional amendment.
While also critical of Beshear’s policies, after the forum, Galbraith described their debate as a ‘microcosm of what is wrong with this state….that partisanship trumps everything.’ And the five time candidate for governor claims this will be his last attempt, and left the matter in the hands of Kentucky voters.
If they’re not so disgusted by the way these parties are acting and acted tonight and have acted throughout the last decade…if they’re not so disgusted they’re ready to vote in change…then they’re gonna get the government that they deserve,” said Galbraith.
Voter turnout next Tuesday is projected to hover around 25 percent. Galbraith says he understands the frustration with political parties. He maintains a lot of people will stay home, but he adds, “We’re gonna get out our vote.” The verdict comes one week from today.