• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Governor invites ‘any question’ at community forum, Talks abortion, pension crisis, tariffs

Gov. Matt Bevin invited those attending a Woodford County Community Forum on Primary Election day to ask him “any question.” And on many issues, they did. Abortion, medical marijuana, tariffs and the state’s pension crisis were among the topics discussed by Bevin. Asked about recent legislation to ban abortions in Alabama, Bevin said he’s signed six pro-life bills since he took office, including a heartbeat bill. “Each of those would – by some – be considered strict or restrictive,” he said. “They’re all very strongly supportive of human life.” He said one of the roles of government is protecting the weak from the strong and to provide equity for those who do not have a voice. “That includes those in the womb that aren’t born yet,” he said. His comments about the value of human life drew applause, but also the anger of one mother. She told Bevin when laws are passed to ban abortions “you are taking away a woman’s right to choose.” Also, she said banning legal abortions puts a woman’s health at risk. “We know from prior to Roe v. Wade,” she explained, “women will find a way. That will put their life in danger. And Roe v. Wade – whether we liked that law or not – allowed women access to proper medical care, and prevented women from dying … “Whether we like that law or not,” she added, “that is a woman’s inalienable right to choose. And the government should not be making that decision.” “It isn’t an actual inalienable right – its not,” said Bevin, “because it involves two lives. “… Human life is worth preserving. It just is.” Earlier in the forum Kentucky’s governor said he supports legalizing medical marijuana in the state because of its “tremendous potential as a medicinal choice.” He said people should not be allowed to legally grow their own marijuana or use it recreationally in Kentucky, but it should be an option for those who prescribe medications if regulated like any other drug. “I would sign such legislation into law depending on how it’s written. The devil really is in the details,” Bevin said. He said he has no interest in legalizing marijuana for recreational use and his stance has nothing to do with religion. Because of societal and other unforeseen consequences “there’s nothing about recreational use of marijuana that I am convinced is good enough for Kentucky to even remotely justify it,” Bevin said. He would veto any legislative action legalizing marijuana for recreational use, he added. On a broader perspective, Bevin argued that the federal government’s war on drugs, poverty and terror have come at an extraordinary price with little to show for it. He said it’s not easy to determine the government’s role when it comes to issues such as those, but citizens cannot disobey the law. “If the law exists at the federal government and it’s not the right law, let’s get rid of it,” said Bevin. “Let federalism take hold and let it devolve back to the local states.” He noted the Constitution of the United States is a thinner document than almost any piece of legislation passed in any state or by the federal lawmakers. Bevin said he wears a red button (with a pair of scissors depicted on it) to demonstrate his support for “cutting red tape on any front … cut regulation to make it simpler and easy for people to get what they need.” Citing a need for more revenue in Kentucky “to take care of the pressing (economic) problems that we have,” state Rep. Joe Graviss, a Versailles Democrat, asked Bevin, “What else do you think we need to do?” “I know what you really wanted to ask me so I’ll bring it around to that … and maybe I’m wrong in assuming that,” responded Bevin, alluding to Kentucky’s public pension crisis. He said there are no “fast, easy, quick” fixes to the economic issues facing state lawmakers. Creating new revenue streams by legalizing marijuana or allowing casino gambling in Kentucky will not answer the state’s pension crisis – regardless if the under-funded liability is $40 billion or $80 billion or somewhere in the middle, said Bevin. He also questioned the likelihood that dollars generated by legalizing marijuana would actually be dedicated to paying down that liability. “How many people believe we would really do that,” Bevin asked. “Have you ever heard of the lottery? Where was all that money supposed to go?” It was supposed to go to public education – and has not, he added. Bevin said the only solution to being able to pay the state’s unfunded pension liability is by growing the economy and population in Kentucky. “How do (we) deal with those real pressing needs now while we’re waiting for the economic development tree to ripen?” asked Graviss. “Make sure that our state is more attractive than other states for people to invest in,” responded Bevin. He said there’s no easy answer, and then talked about the benefits if Kentucky ever moved from being a production-based economy to becoming a consumption-based economy. “You can either tax those that produce wealth and create jobs. Or you can tax people when they consume things. The fairest, most equitable way to do things is to tax consumption (with sales tax),” said Bevin. He also acknowledged that Kentucky should not change its tax structure overnight because the state needs “a broader, wider tax base of more people paying taxes and having them paying less each.” Indiana and Tennessee have much higher populations than Kentucky because both “have better economic development policies, better tax structure, better leadership at every level politically,” said Bevin. He said those states have economic development policies that incentivizes the creation of wealth and jobs. Asked about tariffs on Chinese and American goods, Bevin said, “Nobody wins at the end of the day in a full-fledged trade war.” He acknowledged that tariffs will increase the price of goods and potentially result in job losses. “So this is a real issue. It will be resolved. I’m confident we will get things worked out …,” said Bevin. He said China and the United States have the world’s largest economies so “we’re going to have to figure it out.” He said the Chinese will ultimately lose more than the U. S. because this country has a $500 billion trade deficit with China. Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chair John Soper told Bevin there are few economic problems in the county, but “we have economic opportunities,” including an 800,000 square-foot industrial plant that will be available in September when LedVance closes its operations here. “I just wanted to make you aware of that,” Soper said. Bevin said, “We (the Cabinet for Economic Development) will do what we can … to find people that are interested in coming here, to make sure this is on the radar screen.” Woodford County Magistrate Liles Taylor asked Bevin, why he did not appoint someone to finish Judge-Executive John Coyle’s term, after he died unexpectedly last Nov. 25. When the governor did not directly answer the question, Taylor told Bevin that Woodford Countians had just elected James Kay as its next judge-executive and County Attorney Alan George wrote a letter to the governor’s office asking for Kay to be appointed for the remainder of Coyle’s term. “To my knowledge,” said Bevin, “nobody here ever did ask me to do that.” George said during an interview Tuesday, “I personally have no doubt that it (his letter) was received” by the governor’s office … “and in my opinion intentionally ignored – in my opinion.” In addressing the rationale behind not appointing Kay for the remainder of Coyle’s term at the community forum, county Magistrate Mary Ann Gill said such action would have resulted in Kay receiving a multi-thousand-dollar raise if he had been appointed in December, according to state law. Gill was making reference to step (salary) increases for county judge executives under KRS 64.5275 based on their experience, she said during an interview Tuesday. George said he was never asked by the Fiscal Court or by any magistrate to look into how much an appointment of Kay in December would have cost the county in terms of his salary. So he has never looked into how much that step increase would have been, he added. However, he acknowledged it’s possible that Kay may have received a step increase in salary under state law if Bevin had made the appointment. No discussion about how much Kay would earn happened during a Woodford Fiscal Court meeting on Nov. 27, when George was authorized to send the letter, which was dated Nov. 28. Both George and Gill confirmed that in telephone interviews. “I know of no one who had that concern,” said George of the cost to the county if Kay was appointed prior to taking office in January. “That never was a concern to the Fiscal Court as a whole. Of that I am certain.” He cited one certainty. Bevin did not make an appointment within 30 days as mandated by state law, he said. “We had a need for a county judge,” said George. “We were not analyzing the need versus the cost. The cost was never a concern or consideration before the Woodford Fiscal Court.” After being introduced to those attending the May 21 forum at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) headquarters in Versailles, Bevin said he “almost never gets a warm round of applause at an open town hall meeting, (which he did here) so God bless Woodford County. You guys are awesome.” He described Woodford County voters as “fairly moderate people, fairly conservative in a number of respects.” “A lot of people in this room, perhaps, think alike on some things,” he added, “but I’m willing to bet … from body language and eye darts that not everybody agrees with everything …” Bevin talked to Graviss in a hallway at KCTCS after wrapping up his public forum. Graviss said it’s always good for any leader to answer questions, “and I applaud him for having the guts to come out and address voters and constituents and take questions.” He said Bevin’s answer to his question about Kentucky’s pressing economic needs cannot happen overnight, and he does not agree with the rationale of giving tax breaks to the top-5 percent. “That is not a good economic development tool because we know trickle down does not work. You have to grow the lower part of the economy,” said Graviss, a former small business owner. “And you just can’t keep giving tax breaks to the rich and the big corporations, and expect that they’re going to solve all the problems.”

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