Kentuckians head to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots for governor, attorney general and other statewide offices — or at least we think they will. With turnout predictions ranging from bad to worse, it’s no guarantee the commonwealth’s next chief executive will be selected by anything close to a majority of his constituents.
With that in mind, we’ve created a handy voter guide. It’s something to cut through the noise of negative ads blasting from your television and the spin from the campaigns that often follows.
We’re focusing on the issues we believe will determine the future of our state: education, jobs and the economy, health care, energy and the environment, gaming, public services, right-to-work and the dire pension crisis.
With so much at stake, we were hoping for a campaign of ideas for Kentucky’s future — from the candidates all the way down the ballot. You can judge for yourself whether that happened at our trove of 2015 campaign coverage, which is here.
To get up to speed on the issues and where the candidates stand, give our voter guide on the governor’s race a listen:
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And peruse our coverage of candidates and key issues below:
It might sound boring, but the state’s underfunded pension system is a critical issue for all Kentuckians, not just the hundreds of thousands of state employees and retirees it directly affects.
The next governor will have to come up with solutions for the Teacher Pension System, which has 53 percent of the funds it needs to make future payouts to retirees. And the Kentucky Employee Retirement System non-hazardous fund is only 21 percent funded — one of the worst in the country.
Managers of the pension systems say they need an enormous amount of money every year in coming years to keep the funds solvent. The underfunded level has ballooned hundreds of millions of dollars, and before any new spending can be authorized, the governor’s going to have to come up with answers for how to make payments.
Democrat Jack Conway says he would favor allowing up to seven casinos to open in Kentucky, from which state government could reap tax revenue for the budget — and, in part, the pension funds.
He also says fixes made to the pension system in 2013 need more time to take hold. Back then, the state changed the pension rules so that new hires would be switched into a less generous retirement plan that has a lower rate of return and requires them to contribute more.
Republican Matt Bevin says the state can’t afford to provide a guaranteed rate of return for pension holders because sometimes financial markets don’t perform as well as anticipated.
Bevin calls for moving all new retirees onto a 401(k)-style cash balance program, which would reduce the state’s liability to future pension holders. Workers would simply devote a certain portion of their paycheck to their personal retirement fund with no guarantees made by the state.
Independent candidate Drew Curtis wants to create a “line of credit” as a kind of safety net for the pension systems. If investments in the funds fall short of a 4 percent rate of return, Curtis’ plan calls for tapping the line of credit to make up the losses.
Whether to continue the state’s expanded Medicaid program has been front and center in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Under the program, more than 400,000 people have been added to the state’s Medicaid rolls, the cost of which has been 100 percent subsidized by the federal government over the past three years. Next year, Kentucky will have to pay 5 percent of that cost, or about $109 million, and by 2020 it will have to pay 10 percent, or an estimated $409 million.
Republican Matt Bevin says the state can’t afford to keep the expanded program.
“The way we do this is just make it not as accessible for folks going forward,” Bevin told Kentucky Public Radio. “So we would not allow people to continue going forward to re-enroll at 138 percent of the federal poverty level.”
Bevin says the state needs to scale back eligibility for the program and create a new plan that requires Medicaid recipients to put money into the system.
Democrat Jack Conway and independent Drew Curtis say the state should keep the program, though both worry about how to pay for it.
Conway references a report commissioned by Gov. Steve Beshear and conducted by Deloitte that says expanded Medicaid will create 40,000 jobs and add $30 billion to the state economy by 2021. Bevin disputes those findings.
Matt Bevin wants to pass right-to-work legislation that would prohibit unions from forcing workers to pay dues as a condition of employment in a unionized company.
Supporters say such a measure would make Kentucky more attractive to companies looking to expand or relocate. They say Kentucky is losing out to neighboring states with such laws on the books, including Indiana and Tennessee.
Conway and Curtis oppose right-to-work.
Conway says he would make funding for early childhood education a priority if the budget allows it, providing free public education to all 3- and 4-year-olds whose families earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Bevin favors legislation to authorize charter schools, which use public dollars to fund schools run by private or nonprofit institutions.
Bevin says he wants counties to be able to fund charter schools operated by local parents and teachers. He also says until charter school policies are adopted, children who are home-schooled and their parents should have access to public resources made available to kids who attend public schools.
Independent candidate Drew Curtis says he’s open to the idea of charter schools, especially if they help low-income children.
Conway says he would favor a charter school program if it doesn’t take public dollars away from traditional public schools.
The candidates run the gamut in how they say they would handle federal regulations of carbon emissions from the state’s power plants.
States are supposed to submit plans for how they’ll meet new federal regulations by September 2016.
Bevin says he would ignore regulations and refuse to submit a state carbon reduction plan. He has said the EPA has no authority to regulate states, which legal experts have called wrong.
As attorney general, Conway is suing the EPA over those regulations. He says that while he’s confident the state will prevail in that lawsuit, he won’t commit to not submitting a plan.
Curtis says the state should submit a plan to avoid a more stringent version developed by the EPA.