GOP candidates for governor talk job creation, pension crisis - WDRB 41 Louisville News

GOP candidates for governor talk job creation, pension crisis

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky's unemployment rate is running below the national average, but the Republicans running for governor say they can do better.

WDRB talked to all four candidates about how they plan attract more, good paying jobs. They all say jobs are their number one priority, and most support a controversial idea to attract them.

Kentucky's unemployment rate has dropped more than two points in the past year to 5.1 percent, but the Republican candidates for governor all say the state's economic policies are preventing even more growth.

Three of the four say a top priority is passing a right-to-work bill, which prohibits mandatory membership in a labor union and paying union dues. They say the advantages of doing so can be seen when you look at the map of the 25 states that have passed it.

"Every southern state has it and, now, the states north of us, Michigan and Wisconsin that are huge in automotive manufacturing. We have to become a right-to-work state," said Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

"If you look at where union jobs are growing fastest in the country, they're growing fastest in the right-to-work states because that's where the jobs are going," said Hal Heiner, a businessman and former Metro Councilman.

"Because where there are jobs, there are opportunities for some to be unionized and some not," said entrepreneur Matt Bevin.

Only Will T. Scott has a different take. The former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice says right-to-work should be a local, not a state decision.

"Let Kentucky's counties make their own choices. I'm for that, but I'm for not statewide, mandated right-to-work," said Scott.

All agree on various tax cuts for individuals and businesses, regulatory reform and shrinking the size of government through attrition -- but they also say economic growth depends on solving the state's unfunded pension crisis involving billions of dollars owed to retiring teachers and other public employees.

"We're going to have to move from this defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, a 401K style. It's likely going to take 30 years to dig ourselves out of this 13 year hole," said Heiner.

All pledge to honor current commitments, audit the system, and move new employees to 401K-style plans to save money.

Bevin goes one step further.

"We must incent people in the plan now to take a lump sum and take responsibility for their own investments, to move outside and, again, give them financial incentive to do so, but by doing so, every one that does is one less person that the taxpayers of the future are going to be obligated to provide a pension to," he said.

And where will the money come from to make sure retirees get what's owed?

"Every option is on the table, but we're going to have to find a revenue stream that's elastic. That means it grows with the economy," said Comer.

Scott has a different approach, a constitutional amendment to build casinos in Kentucky, with the money going to pensions.

WDRB asked Scott if it is dangerous to run as a Republican for expanded gambling.

"It's dangerous not to run for real solutions for working people in Kentucky. That's the danger," he said.

On Thursday, WDRB will feature the candidates' platforms on education and healthcare.

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