U.S. Senate candidates Jack Conway and Rand Paul are fighting for votes in Kentucky’s economically distressed mountain region, which has received help for decades from a little-known federal agency known as the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Neither of the candidates has endorsed the work of the agency, which has pumped more than $1 billion into Kentucky’s mountain region to build highways, bolster the economy and improve the quality of life.
A questionnaire from The Associated Press asked Conway, a Democrat, and Paul, a Republican, if they favor continued funding for the commission, created in 1965 to help the impoverished mountain region reach economic parity with the rest of the nation.
“As a general matter, I support investigating and cutting waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs, and if any of these are present in ARC programs, we should aggressively go after it,” Conway said in his written response. “But to the extent that programs make efficient use of funds, are necessary, and help foster economic growth in the area, we should carefully consider the costs and benefits before making cuts.”
Both Conway and Paul acknowledged the need to create jobs in the Appalachian region but, asked to expound on their written responses to the questionnaire, neither campaign obliged.
“I will support policies that will encourage job creation in the Appalachian region, and I will support federal programs for Kentucky in the context of a balanced federal budget,” Paul wrote. “But the most important step for job creation and economic development in all parts of Kentucky is to stop the harm that will come from the policies of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Jack Conway.”
The Appalachian Regional Commission has spent $619 million on road construction projects in Kentucky over the past four decades, plus an additional $396 million on various other projects that have provided jobs, clean drinking water, even medical care to mountain residents.
One of the more notable projects funded by the agency in Kentucky was a medical school in Pikeville, created to train doctors to work in central Appalachia where physicians are in short supply.
ARC spokesman Louis Segesvary said Wednesday the agency has invested some $9.2 billion in highways in the 13-state region since its founding, and another $3.5 billion on other types of projects.
AP’s Economic Stress Index, a monthly analysis of economic conditions around the country, found that counties in the 205,000-square-mile Appalachian region stretching from New York to Mississippi have been hit harder than the nation as a whole by the economic recession based on unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures.
Paul acknowledged that “eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian region need jobs,” and he blamed Democratic policies for harming the region’s economy.
“The proposed national energy tax and EPA regulation of greenhouse gas will drive up energy costs for all Kentuckians and put people out of work in eastern Kentucky,” Paul wrote.
Conway said he has a proposal to grant tax credits to small- and medium-sized businesses to foster job creation, and he said he would continue to push for federal money to combat a rampant problem with prescription pill abuse in the mountain region.
“The most important thing we can do for the people of Appalachia is to create jobs and combat the drug problem,” Conway wrote.