Conway hopes to expand bourbon tourism, broadband and other programs without tax increases in jobs plan

06/23/2015 03:44 PM

Attorney General Jack Conway unveiled his campaign’s jobs plan on Tuesday, pledging to “hold the line” on state taxes while investing in a new cabinet-level office for small businesses, expanded broadband availability and workforce training.

Conway and his running mate, House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, presented their proposals to boost economic development outside the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively, with Conway singling out the bourbon industry as a vital piece of Kentucky’s more than $13 billion tourism industry.

The General Assembly enacted a bourbon barrel tax credit during the 2014 legislative session, which provides an income tax credit created to offset property taxes on individually aging barrels of bourbon. Conway went a step further, promising to update “antiquated laws” and phase out Kentucky’s inventory tax on all businesses, which generates more than $7 million in annual revenue.

“As governor, my vision is to make the Kentucky bourbon trail what Napa Valley is to wine,” Conway said, “and in order to make that happen, I’ll bring our antiquated laws up to date with changes in technology, and we’re going to ensure that our laws support the growth of this particular industry. I’m going to support tourism-friendly legislation that allows for regulated sampling, enhanced culinary experiences and modernized promotional opportunity.”

Some of the Democratic gubernatorial nominee’s ideas remain a work in progress, however.

His proposal to create a cabinet-level Office of Small Business Advocacy, for instance, would be funded by eliminating inefficiencies in state government.

But when asked whether he had identified any potential funding sources for the office, Conway said inefficiencies in state government wouldn’t be hard to locate.

“You’re looking at someone who cut his own office’s budget by 40 percent,” Conway said. “I’m an efficiency nut, and when I became attorney general we realigned processes within Medicaid fraud. We found efficiencies, and we’re going to do it again when I’m governor.”

His campaign did not respond to a question on cost estimates for the proposed office in an email sent after the event, instead reiterating Conway’s cost-cutting record as attorney general.

“One example of the kinds of proposals Jack would support: Kentucky businesses were previously required to have multiple redundant identification numbers for dealing with different agencies, but soon they’ll be using a streamlined system where they can use the same ID across Kentucky’s government,” Conway spokesman Daniel Kemp said in a statement.

“Jack’s Office of Small Business Advocacy will be charged with finding more commonsense solutions to cut red tape and waste like this one by seeking input from Kentucky’s business community.”

Other ideas included in Conway’s proposal include:

  • Expanding Kentucky’s broadband Internet capacity.
  • Enacting public-private partnerships.
  • Examining opportunities for Kentucky-based companies to win state contracts over out-of-state businesses.
  • Exploring new potential exports for Kentucky coal and finding ways to more economically mine the resource.
  • Creating the first state multi-industry apprenticeship program in the country.
  • Improving Kentucky’s college graduation rate to match the national average.
  • Forging relationships between farmers, educational facilities and lawmakers to improve agricultural biotechnology.
  • Hiring an agricultural specialist in the Economic Development Cabinet to focus on agricultural issues.

Conway’s release of a jobs plan comes after jostling with Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin recently on whether the GOP nominee should disclose his tax records during the campaign.

That prompted the Louisville investment manager to call on Conway, who shared three years of tax returns with reporters on Thursday, to release a formal policy plan after more than a year on the campaign trail.

He noted that his campaign released its Blueprint for a Better Kentucky two weeks after launching.

“Although it took AG Conway 413 days since he announced his candidacy, I am glad he has finally presented something tangible to the people of Kentucky,” Bevin said in a statement.

“It is one piece of what he owes the people he wants to lead, but at least it’s is a start. … I now call on the Conway-Overly campaign to cease their childish focus on mudslinging, and start having honest, civil discourse about our different solutions to Kentucky’s problems. I look forward to debating these differences in the weeks and months ahead. The voters of Kentucky deserve no less.”

The candidates differ on numerous issues, and their disagreements can be seen in their proposals for economic development.

While Bevin advocates for a statewide right-to-work law, which would bar unions from collecting fees on non-members, Conway said he would oppose any effort to enact such legislation in Kentucky.

Conway counts a number of labor unions and groups, such as the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, among his ticket’s key endorsements. The attorney general has also filed an amicus curiae brief in a lawsuit filed by unions attempting to block Hardin County Fiscal Court’s right-to-work ordinance.

“Regardless of the policy, when it comes to local right-to-work ordinances, the National Labor Relations Act and federal law is clear that local governments cannot enact right-to-work ordinances,” Conway said. “… As far as statewide right-to-work, I’m for the right to work for better wages. States that don’t have right-to-work laws tend to have workers making $1,500 a year more on average than states that do have them, so I’m concerned about wages and job creation.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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