VIDEO: Governor’s race candidates debate budget, education, pensions and more at Ky. Chamber Business Summit

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In the keynote panel Tuesday at the 10th annual Kentucky Chamber Business Summit, the candidates in the 2015 governors race discussed the biggest issues facing the state in front of business leaders.Beginning his remarks, GOP gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin encouraged the audience to “look closely” at each candidate and their differences.

Democratic candidate Jack Conway also stated that he and Bevin have very different plans for the future of the state, noting his focus on small business and adding that he is looking to improve the state’s workforce.

When asked about the budget and his priorities in his first term, Bevin stated that it is hard to state main priorities because of each dollar in the state budget, 89 cents is already spoken for. Bevin said the state has missed many opportunities because of the way the budget has been crafted.

“We have punted on pension issues, we have punted on education issues with no outcomes-based funding,” Bevin said.

On budgeting, Conway said one of his top priorities is early childhood education as he says the investment will “pay dividends” down the road.

But Conway said he is not saying the state should fund a universal pre-school program because the state cannot afford it but said there needs to be a system for needs-based funding for those who are Medicaid eligible, which is set at 138 percent of the poverty rate.

Bevin rebuked a remark by Conway stating that his opponent is not a supporter of early childhood education. Bevin noted the fact that he has nine children and said he is a supporter of early childhood education but would not fund universal pre-school.

On common core, Conway said he believes the topic has been clouded by political rhetoric and said he supports Kentucky “doing it the Kentucky way” and stated that if something isn’t working, there needs to be more engagement from the local level.

“Since we began this initiative, do you know where we have gone in college and career readiness?” Conway asked, stating that the state has seen improved test scores, more students that are college and career ready and a lower drop out rate.

Bevin, on the other hand, said the state committed to the standards before they were even completed and said the standards are not making Kentucky students more competitive, which is the goal of the standards. (The Kentucky Chamber will have more on Bevin’s stance on the issue on Bottom Line in the coming weeks.)

On plans for job creation plans, moderator Ryan Alessi asked Conway about the points in his plan that say he will cut government spending and make more efficient while also planning to add new government agencies, including a new small business cabinet.

In response, Conway said voters just need to look at what he has done as attorney general where he says he has cut spending and done more with less during his two terms.

As for how the government can privatize some government functions to help with government efficiencies, Conway and Bevin each pointed to areas where private companies could better run. Conway says he is in favor of public-private partnerships (P3) and Bevin added that in an interview with the Kentucky Chamber ahead of the panel, he explained that he is not opposed to P3.

When discussing the pension crisis in the state, Conway and Bevin each said they are not in favor of bonding billions of dollars to shore up the systems. However, they also each said there are promises that have been made to government employees that have to be upheld.

Alessi brought up the idea put forth by some including Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System Exec. Director Gary Harbin and Republican state Sen. Joe Bowen that the state turn over assets to the system in lieu of additional revenue to which each candidate said they could be supportive of that proposal.

The candidates disagreed on the health exchange the state created through the Affordable Care Act as Conway said he supports the expansion and believes the exchange will pay for itself. Bevin, on the other hand, has been calling for a full repeal of the exchange (kynect) and said the people currently receiving coverage through kynect would be put on the federal exchange.

In the panel, Bevin said he would lower the Medicaid eligibility back to the levels before the exchange was put in place, taking qualifications down to 100 percent of the poverty rate opposed to the current 138 percent. Bevin stated that the state can not afford the exchange.

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