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Q & A with Beshear, Fletcher




QUESTION:

AP: How would you increase jobs in poverty-stricken areas of Appalachia and elsewhere throughout the state? Why do you believe it hasn’t happened so far?

ANSWERS:

Steve Beshear:

The current administration has failed to provide the leadership needed on economic development.

Kentucky has added only half the number of jobs that were added in other parts of the country, and although approximately 62,000 more people entered the workforce between 2004 and 2006, the state’s unemployment rate increased during the same period from 5.5 percent to 5.7 percent. In fact, the state Department of Labor reported that Kentucky businesses laid off 55,000 workers in 2005 – 46 percent more than were laid off in 2004.

As Governor, I will work to bring high-wage jobs to all parts of the state. My Jobs First plan, which can be found at www.stevebeshear.com, is the only comprehensive economic program in this campaign. Period.

It has three major components:

It starts with providing incentives for the kinds of businesses we need – those with high growth potential in high-wage jobs.

Then, it proposes to restore government integrity with an ethics reform package that will make Kentucky government an engine for progress instead of a drag on efficiency and economic growth.

Finally, I will lay out my plans for turning our schools into firstclass institutions of learning, modernizing our workforce development and training system and making higher education a viable option for more Kentuckians, as well as providing health care coverage for all Kentuckians by putting in place measures to control costs and improve access.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher:

There is no question that a healthy, educated workforce improves Kentucky’s opportunities.

The challenges of health and education, like obesity, diabetes, drugs and illiteracy, are often rooted in poverty. To improve quality of life and competitiveness, we must continue to improve our health care and educational systems

As governor, I have worked to improve economic opportunity in the state as my guiding principle. Reforming health care started with Medicaid, where we have eliminated an inherited $1 billion shortfall and created a national model program. In prior administrations, Medicaid was a problem that was addressed by rapidly increasing sums of money; now it is a program that is interactively managed to improve the health of its recipients. We have also passed three consecutive years of health insurance reform designed to expand access to insurance and health care for Kentuckians. We have created affordable plans specifically tailored for small businesses to offer their employees, and begun the ICARE program to encourage small businesses to provide new coverage, and we now lead the nation in growth of employer sponsored health care.

Education has also been a priority for my administration. Unlike many politicians that make this claim, we’ve put our money where our mouth is. Thanks to the more stable financial foundation we have created for state government, we have been able to provide record funding to education.

P-12 education funding is receiving record increases in funding after a decade of flat funding. This funding has not just gone blindly into the system, but to establish better tools of accountability. We have invested in the technology necessary to create a statewide system of longitudinal tracking, which will track student performance in real time, make it available on the Web for parents, and help us identify a student that needs intervention before it’s too late. I have advocated directing enhanced compensation to teachers that volunteer to teach subjects of critical need or at low-performing schools, and will continue my efforts to make Kentucky a place where good teachers want to work.

Postsecondary education base funding has seen a 20 percent increase in average annual funding during this administration compared to the previous eight years. Postsecondary education capital funding has received a 130 percent increase in average annual funding over the previous eight years, while maintaining a responsible debt level for the state, below 6 percent of revenues.

Only by continuing our efforts to improve health and education will we address these root causes of poverty. But Appalachia has many resources that provide opportunity for greater acceleration of progress.

As the General Assembly meets this month (in August) to enact a new incentive package to build Kentucky’s energy future, Appalachia will be at the forefront, not just because of coal, but because of its forests and other resources that will provide advantage in Kentucky’s high-tech energy economy.

Clean coal technologies, coal conversion and cellulosic ethanol all provide Appalachia the opportunity to be on the forefront of Kentucky’s newest high-tech industry. Bringing the first companies here will use and push further development of cutting-edge technologies that will provide efficient energy production while protecting our environment. This is an opportunity for Kentucky to lead the nation in this area of research and technology.

If we want to advance together as a commonwealth, this is the sort of economic development that will achieve that goal: not simply sewing old ideas more widely, but sprouting the seeds of new ideas and new markets. This is an opportunity that Appalachia is well positioned to take advantage of.


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