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Beshear, Cameron discuss visions for Ky. economy at forum

People sitting in a room filled with round tables, a stage and light-up screen at the back.
Sylvia Goodman
Kentucky business leaders and elected officials packed into the Chamber of Commerce's Gubernatorial Forum to hear Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron pitch their diverging ideas for the state's economic future.

During a forum hosted by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican challenger Daniel Cameron didn’t share the stage, but instead independently spoke to a packed room of local business leaders and elected officials about issues like Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion and whether to continue cutting the state’s income tax.

The two candidates took turns sitting across from the moderator and answering a set list of questions about their take on Kentucky’s prevailing economic issues.

Attorney General Cameron, who spoke first, leaned into his plan to eliminate the state’s income tax. The tax has already been reduced twice in the past two legislative sessions, but Kentucky did not meet conditions put in place by the legislature to allow for another cut again next year.

Cameron said he still hopes to eliminate the tax soon. He said it would make Kentucky more competitive with states like Tennessee who have eliminated their own income taxes.

“Because Tennessee has a pro-growth mindset, it’s moved past us in terms of its population,” Cameron said. “I want people … to make the judgment and the decision to stop here because we have a tax environment that keeps people here.”

Beshear urged caution in lowering the income tax recklessly, saying it would force the state to expand the sales tax or cut essential government services.

“What we have to do is to be responsible about it,” Beshear said. “I think the General Assembly has put in a framework that — agree or disagree — I think they're trying to do it responsibly. A rush like my opponent talks about to get to zero on the income tax as quickly as possible would turn us into Kansas.”

Kansas drastically cut taxes in 2012, leading to major budget shortfalls. The state’s Supreme Court later ordered lawmakers to increase taxes to bolster funding for government services like K-12 schools.

The two candidates argued over Medicaid, with Cameron calling Beshear the “welfare governor.” He pointed to a large increase in people covered under Medicaid during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it's unfortunate that, over the last three and a half years, Andy Beshear, in many ways, has established a culture of dependency on government,” Cameron said.

Kentucky is one of 40 states that expanded Medicaid after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The move means more people are eligible for health coverage in the state.

Cameron said he does not intend to roll back the Medicaid expansion, but said he wants to require “able-bodied individuals” to prove they are working or seeking work in order to keep benefits – a plan former GOP Gov. Matt Bevin tried to enact during his tenure.

“When I talked to our health care providers, the expansion of Medicaid was important, particularly for our rural providers; I understand that,” Cameron said. But what I don't understand is if you expand Medicaid coverage to able-bodied individuals, why we didn't condition that on some sort of work requirement.”

In response to a survey created by Northern Kentucky Right to Life earlier this year, Cameron responded that “yes,” he would actively work to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile Beshear advocated for expanding Medicaid coverage even further to improve workforce shortages.

“We have to get more of our people healthy. It's why I expanded Medicaid for vision, hearing and dental because if someone's out of the workforce and we want them to go to a job, they've got to be able to see well enough to drive to the job. A pair of glasses isn't that expensive, let's get them for them,” Beshear said.

Both candidates were asked to say one thing they liked about their opponent. Both noted they worked together at Kentucky law firm Stites & Harbison, where Beshear gave Cameron his first assignment.

Cameron called Beshear a “good family man,” but went on to criticize Beshear for an advertisement featuring a rape survivor who called out Cameron for not supporting exceptions to Kentucky’s near-total ban on abortion. Cameron has since said he would sign legislation creating exceptions for rape and incest.

“I would have had a lot of nice things to say about [Beshear] until he ran that ad against me today,” Cameron said.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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