The Governor’s Race: Beshear, Cameron on socioeconomic issues

Published 3:31 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

Editor’s note: This is part of weekly series examining the race for governor.

About 16.5% of Kentuckians live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. The median household income was just over $55,000 from 2017 to 2021.

What are the governor candidates’ plans to lift Kentuckians out of poverty and deal with socioeconomic factors impacting the commonwealth?

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican challenger Attorney General Daniel Cameron disagree on the economy’s impact on Kentuckians.

As current governor, Beshear often shares highlights, like a historic low unemployment of 3.9% reached last May.

The unemployment rate has remained fairly steady, save for the first few months of the pandemic.

He also talks about an “economic roll” that Kentucky is on, particularly considering historic investment in economic development projects.

A $27 billion investment in new private-sector new location and expansion projects have created 47,500 new jobs during his administration.

Cameron talks about the lowlights, like the fact that real median household income, $55,880, has dropped by 11% since 2019, when Beshear took office.

This is the lowest it’s been since 2016, although higher than most of the 2000s, according to the Federal Reserve.

Cameron also often mentions high inflation, which he blames on “Biden-omics” that he says Beshear supports.

Cameron’s plan to boost the economy involves two major goals: continuing to eliminate the income tax and establishing work requirements for able-bodied people receiving Medicaid.

Beshear has also expressed support for the income tax reduction, as long as the legislature takes its time and meets key financial thresholds.

He vetoed the most recent legislation cutting the tax, though. He has repeatedly said it was not because of the cut to the income tax, but additional sales taxes added to the bill.

Beshear’s plan to boost the economy involves bringing more industries into Kentucky and building an educated workforce to meet that need.

He often mentions the two electric vehicle battery plants being built in Bowling Green and Glendale as examples of what can happen under his administration.

State Republicans would argue that he is taking credit for their successful economic policies.

The economy isn’t the only component of socioeconomic success. Affordable and accessible education and health care, race and food security are also key factors.

While Beshear and Cameron don’t often mention the latter two, they have both talked about health and education.

Beshear has focused on health care access and affordability as a major driver of socioeconomic success during his administration.

In October 2022, he used an executive order to expand Medicaid to dental, vision and hearing care.

“We know that when people cannot see or hear well, or have poor oral health, it hinders their ability to seek and maintain a job,” he said at the time.

He said that that unemployment rate was so low, less than 4% at the time, that people weren’t leaving the workforce because of unemployment benefits.

“So we have to look at what has some people out of the workforce altogether,” Beshear said. “It is straightforward – to get more people into the workforce, we must get them healthy enough.”

Cameron said that he would keep that expansion in place when asked.

However, Democrats have used his plan to establish Medicaid work requirements to compare him to former governor Matt Bevin, who had a similar plan that would have taken 100,000 Kentuckians off of Medicaid coverage.

Finally, education has been one of the most contentious issues of the race.

Beshear’s plan calls for 11% raises for all school employees, universal pre-K and an emphasis on career and technical education investments to meet workforce needs, among other provisions. It would cost $1.1 billion.

Cameron’s plan focuses on catching Kentucky’s kids up on math, reading and science through a 16-week tutoring program, an increased starting salary for teachers and more tools to address disciplinary problems in the classroom.