Renee Shaw: Good evening. Welcome to Kentucky Tonight. I'm Renee Shaw. Thanks for joining us. Tonight, we begin our series of conversations with candidates running in the November seventh general election. In our second half hour, you’ll meet the two candidates for state treasurer. But first, the candidates for auditor of public accounts.
We’re joined in our Lexington studio by Allison Ball, the Republican candidate for state auditor; and the Democratic candidate, Kimberley Reeder. Send us your questions and comments by X – formerly Twitter – at k-y tonight k-e-t. Send an email to k-y tonight at k-e-t dot o-r-g. Or use the web form at k-e-t dot o-r-g slash k-y tonight. Or you can call 1-800-494-7605. Welcome candidates, good to see you all here this evening. Let's just start for the viewers to get a chance to know what you are and your background and we'll start with Treasurer Ball, that is the position you occupy, and give us a little bit about your background, tell us why you are uniquely qualified to be the next Kentucky state auditor.
Allison Ball: I always say if you know what I will be like as auditor look at what I have been as treasurer. It's an honor to serve Kentucky as treasurer. I thank you for giving me the honor of serving you in that role. It is a watchdog role, the watchdog on the front end of taxpayer dollars guarding the bank account and what is paid, legal, constitutional and role. I’ve stopped embezzlement and fraud. There’s a heavy cybersecurity role in that. I’ve been the watchdog and I’m now asking please send me to be the watchdog on back end. The auditor does just like what it sounds like it does. The auditor audits. The auditor is that watchdog on the back end. Once money has been paid in Kentucky the auditor makes sure that money is used correctly. The processes are correct and if not, then the auditor makes sure there's accountability. So I’ve been your watchdog and so I ask you, please, send me back. I was a prosecutor for four years, so I know how to investigate, I know how to do deep dives and to be fair across the board. I also was a bankruptcy attorney for two years in addition to that, so I’ve got a background that has me readying to go to serve you as auditor.
Renee Shaw: Ms. Reeder, your introduction, please.
Kimberley Reeder: I was born and raised in Rowan County and was fortunate enough to acquire an excellent educational background after that. I attended Yale University for undergraduate and then did dual degrees in public policy and law at Duke and the University of North Carolina Law School. I built a successful tax practice over 20 years.
Multibillion dollar corporations consulted with me to solve difficult problems, and I was named a top 10 tax lawyer in the country. All of that was very satisfying and then in 2014, my mother became ill and my daughter and I moved back to Morehead.
So the what I bring to the table are a set of professional skills that have been looked over in some of the harshest competitive environments and deemed to be worthy at the highest levels and now I just want to put those skills to use for Kentuckians, for all Kentuckians. You know this role, deciding to run for political office, it's, I’m not a politician. To quote the late Bert Combs, I needed to run for political office about like a hog needs a side saddle. But It's something that I’m very committed to doing and serving Kentuckians.
Renee Shaw: Miss Reeder, you have talked about our on program, on another program on KET how you want to address waste, fraud and abuse and those seem like familiar stances that we hear from the watchdog offices. How do we move beyond perhaps a trite phrase and slogan to translate that to real results that can benefit Kentucky taxpayers?
Kimberley Reeder: The auditor focuses on financial transactions as well as accounts. But the auditor can also focus on performance of agencies. And so what we're talking about there, certainly, we don't want fraud and abuse. We don't want money going where it's not supposed to go. But having the ability to weigh whether an agency is conducting a program in an effective and efficient way, that's also a very important function that the auditor's office can play. For example, if, we recently released our first state-wide domestic violence report that showed very high statistics with regard to intimate partner violence. So one role the auditor could play is in analyzing the effectiveness of intervention and prevention efforts. And that's where you see the auditor really coming into everyday Kentuckians’ lives and making a difference not just in a trite or theoretical sense.
Renee Shaw: To you Ms. Ball, the current office holder is also a Republican whom you know very well. Can you pinpoint a particular audit that he performed that really does epitomize the power and the purpose of the office and would be a process that you would also emulate should you become the next state auditor.
Allison Ball: Sure, well Auditor Harmon has had several good audits while he’s been in office, and actually what I think is the best guideline is a phrase he that uses all the time and it's follow the data. He says this is a nonpartisan role and you make sure that you don't show favoritism, you don't go after anybody particularly because of their political party or just because you don't like them. This is fair across the board. And Auditor Harmon, you can tell he’s tried to do that. He has had Republicans that he’s audited and Democrats that he’s audited. He’s always been fair across the board. He’s had several instances where it's been financial and he’s instances where it’s been processes. I remember one in particular where he found that, this sounds simple but, people were using their leave time for elections and they’re state government workers and they were not actually voting. They were using taxpayer dollars to do that. So he makes sure that he is fair across the board. Follow the data and I think that is a tremendous guideline which I want to follow in that role, too. I want it to be consistently nonpartisan and fair across the board.
Renee Shaw: And can you assure Kentucky voters that if you are dealing with an all Republican super majority in every aspect of government, that you can be an independent voice and investigate members of your own party or the institutions which they run.
Allison Ball: I’ve been asked that a few times already and I tell people, this is the kind of question you have to ask yourself before you decide to run for something because I’m a Republican and there are many Republicans now in this state. So I have to ask myself would I be willing to go after my friends, people who are on the same side as me and the answer is yes. I did that deep work before I said I wanted to run for this office to say can I go after people who I may like, they may be friends of mine, because that’s what the job requires. It requires you to be fair, to be consistent across the board, and yes I will do that. And I’ve actually done this before in a very clear way when I was a prosecutor. I was a prosecutor for four years in my home, Floyd County, in eastern Kentucky. I’m from Prestonsburg, I’m ninth generation from there, and I’ve always been a Republican so I worked in the county attorney's office for the Democrat chair in that county. And everyone always knew I was Republican but they gave me the role as being a prosecutor in my home county because I assured them I can treat everybody fairly, I can make sure that justice is sought after and achieved and I did that as a prosecutor. I have a background of doing that. I’ve tried to do that in the treasurer's office, but I think the prosecutor’s role is a good example of treating everybody the exact same way, treating everybody fairly across the board. That’s what the job requires, that’s what you should do.
Renee Shaw: I want to talk about a recent development. The Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund and the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund, both $65 million combined. These are donation-powered initiatives, initiated by Governor Andy Beshear and they have come under scrutiny from Republican lawmakers who have asked the auditor to do an audit and look in it. In a letter, the lawmakers said they have serious concerns about due diligence and the general oversight of the funds, and we know there are reports that folks who were not affected by the floods received those checks. Do you support that kind of examination and would you have initiated that if you were state auditor and follow what the Republican lawmakers are seeking?
Kimberley Reeder: Absolutely. I appreciate the approach. And what I mean by that is we raised red flags when we think there's an issue. When there is any reason to think that a process or a result isn't being obtained in the way that it should be under the law, that's the auditor's job is to do an independent and disinterested look at it. Now, what the auditor digs into to look at is it material? Is it something -- we don't expect the agencies to be perfect. We expect them to not materially misstate what their financial operations are. So if what I would need to do to be able to ascertain whether that audit should go forward would be to look at the details. Get mired in the details, which is that's always where the devil is, and figure out if there is enough evidence to go forward with a full audit.
Renee Shaw: And do you think that there's enough evidence just based off news reports that warrant a full audit at this particular junction?
Kimberley Reeder: It depends, a few, three, misdirected payments maybe not. A threshold issue of more that could raise more of a specter of doubt.
Renee Shaw: Ms. Ball.
Allison Ball: Yeah, happy to talk about that on. I actually was asking for an audit from the beginning of that have that one. Talking about the Western Kentucky Relief F und and my office as treasurer has been the one overseeing the bank account of that, so I can see the money coming in and the money going out. When the Public Protection Cabinet was first tasked with being responsible for those dollars, I actually requested right away some oversight of those funds. I actually requested an audit and the Public Protection Cabinet said, “No thank you.” So I have been asking for it for quite some time for there to audit of that, and I began asking the General Assembly, hey, I think you need to put some guardrails in place. This is an unusual account. There are not normal government controls and processes over this. So I began asking them for that. And then of course when the floods happened in my home region of eastern Kentucky I asked for the same thing again because I was concerned how the Western Kentucky one was run. And then in December of last year, the Public Protection Cabinet asked us to deliver them some checks. We did about $10 million of checks for the Western Kentucky Relief Fund. And then immediately we started getting calls from folks saying, “I’ve gotten this check. I don’t know why I’ve gotten it. I was not impacted by the tornadoes.” We had people in northern Kentucky call us. My in-laws in Taylor County had people at their church say, “Hey, I don't know why I got this check. Could you ask your daughter-in-law, she’s the treasurer, to find out why.” So at that point we had over 200 checks that went to the wrong people. We actually have about a thousand checks I believe right now that have not been cashed at all. And this is right now October, so 10 months since they were mailed out. So I thought the whole time we need to make sure that there is an audit of these funds. We need to make sure that there's good controls in place for these funds.
I’ve been asking for the whole time. So the General Assembly, last session, with our encouragement, they passed a bill that put some more structure and some guidelines over these funds, which I think is absolutely appropriate. Again these are... You always guard taxpayer dollars absolutely. You make sure you protect those, but these are donated dollars from across the world to help people impacted by the western Kentucky tornados, the eastern Kentucky floods. I remember we had a $100,000 check that we had received in from Taiwan, the country of Taiwan, just trying to help the people of western Kentucky. So absolutely there should be an audit.
Renee Shaw: And you would require that even if there was a Republican governor?
Allison Ball: Absolutely. The job is about making sure taxpayer dollars are used correctly and in this case donated dollars, I think there is even a higher threshold for donated dollars because you’re soliciting these funds to help people that are impacted. They could send them to the Red Cross, they could send them to the Salvation Army, anybody else, and you are saying send them here. You have to have guardrails.
Renee Shaw: So you can debunk the claim that it is politically motivated because it’s a general election and the audit was called for about three months before the election.
Allison Ball: I asked for an audit right away from over a year ago I asked for an audit. So long before that there was an election I asked for an audit of this and I’ve it documented from the Public Protection Cabinet saying, “No, we don’t want to do an audit.” So I’ve been asking for it for close to two years now.
Renee Shaw: Another audit that has been requested and that’s for Jefferson County Public Schools... referencing administrator pay, the transportation issues which we're all very familiar with, guns in schools, academic performance. Republican lawmakers representing Jefferson County have called for a comprehensive financial and management office audit of JCPS to provide a ten-year look back. JCPS has said it's undergone six audits before since 2017 and Adam Edelen has done that. I’ll ask you, Miss Reeder, do you support and would you carry out a full financial and management audit of JCPS?
Kimberley Reeder: in my professional experience, when we're conducting an analysis of a problem we start at the beginning of the problem, In the initial stages. And what we know is that JCPS wasn't the only district experiencing issues with bus drivers this year.
From reports that I’ve seen we could see that in Jessamine County, Bullitt County, Shelby County, Clark County, a number of schools were having those problems. And so in that case, we look back to where the funds originated. The funds originated under the education formula that allocates dollars to individual school districts coming from the state. And we know that with regard to transportation that there are funding statutes, funding provisions that aren't being complied with. And so before we can point a light on Jefferson County specifically, we have to start at the beginning and see how those dollars are coming through that education formula.
Renee Shaw: From state lawmakers.
Kimberley Reeder: From state lawmakers and through the department of education.
Renee Shaw: So let me ask you that, Ms. Ball, because we know there was a also another study that came out from a progressive-leaning think tank about the funding gap between the poorest and the wealthiest school districts. I want you to answer the question about CPS and that audit. If there is a place for the auditor to do that but also would you hold the Republican-dominated General Assembly's feet to the fire when it comes to narrowing those equity funding gaps that seem to be wider now than they were before they were declared unconstitutional in 1989?
Allison Ball: So to the first question, the JCPS, should there audit there? Absolutely there should be an audit. When I first heard of the busing situation happening in Louisville, I was appalled. I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old. If my child was left on the curbside for hours on end or didn't get home until 10:00 o’clock at night I would be besides myself upset. Those are not minor problems, those are pretty serious problems in Jefferson County. So I began asking for an audit that week in some places I was speaking at and some news media I was talking to. It totally seemed appropriate to do an audit just given the fact that the busing situation was going on, but also it's been 10 years since there's been a full audit of JCPS, so it's entirely appropriate to do that. I think those are things that you want to do. It’s the largest school district that we have in Kentucky. It is appropriate to revisit those, to do them. I think the worry about doing it there is always the cost of it because it will be very expensive and I do think that you have to be careful because you want schools to be putting their money towards teaching kids. Of course you do. I do think that is important to have an audit so I would encourage the General Assembly I think this is worth an appropriation. I don't think that if we can help it I don't think we should put more of a cost on them, if we can help it. So I would pledge to work with the General Assembly to say, hey. I think this audit is necessary, it's appropriate, it’s needed, and I also think that this would be the time to put some money to it.
Renee Shaw: How much money do you suspect it would cost?
Allison Ball: You know, I think it's probably going to be over half a million. From what I understand about the cost of audits this is going to be an expensive audit. So I would start at half a million. Yes, actually start about half a million, 500 maybe even 700,000.
I think ball park, I think you need to plan on it being a costly audit. So like I said I am more than comfortable pushing the general assembly to say, hey, this is worthwhile, this is worth putting some money to. Let's appropriate this and in the course of that audit if it became clear that there's funding that’s not happening, I think those are things you pull out from an audit. I think that’s what audits are for. You find efficiencies, you find problems, you know, in a variety of aspects and if it looks like there’s a problem with funding, then absolutely that can be part of a finding. I don't want to speak without having done something. I think that this deserves a through look-through and then if there’s something that needs to be addressed in the General Assembly, then of course, that’s what you do the audit for and that’s what those findings are meant to help stir.
Renee Shaw: Can the auditor compel the General Assembly into action?
Allison Ball: I don't know that the auditor can compel the General Assembly. I mean they are a separate branch. But I have a great relationship with the members of the General Assembly. It is a super majority and I am a Republican. So I’ve got great relationship with a lot of those folks and I’ve always worked well with them. Worked well with them in the treasurer's office. I pushed to get a high school literacy training bill passed. It’s now a high school requirement in Kentucky. Before I got in office there wasn't really much of an interest in that, and I worked it. I worked it hard and it's now the law of the land that high school students have to some financial literacy training before they’re through with school and that’s an example of me working with the General Assembly when there wasn’t a lot of interest in that before I got involved in it. Some things maybe a heavier lift than others but I'm happy to work on something that is right and appropriate as a result of findings that I find.
Renee Shaw: So Miss Reeder, a couple things that I want to tease out with you. First of all, let’s talk about the JCPS and also let’s talk about the school funding and the equity gap. So if you’ll answer that question first and then I want to ask you about relationships with a Republican super majority and how you would get work done.
Kimberley Reeder: So to the issue of the disparity between wealthy and poorer school districts, you know that's a really proud moment in Kentucky history when Kentucky led the way in 1989 in finding that an adequate education was a fundamental right for every student. So every one of our 700,000 public school students that that was a fundamental right for those children. And moreover, that you couldn’t discriminate between wealthy and poor school districts. We know that's the law. That's what the Kentucky Supreme Court told us in 1989. Huge education reform occurred in the years after that, including the transportation funding statute that I was mentioning earlier in which the legislature is required to fund 100 percent of transportation costs. and the reason why it's a very commonsense reason: If you can't get the children to school, you can't teach them anything. All of the education reform in the world won't matter. And so in 1989, and the subsequent legislation, that was really important and the fact that we've chipped away at that over the years as far as putting the funding in is, you know, it’s a really 34 years later to see that we have students who are, who are receiving educations that aren't being invested in, actually in the same in eastern Kentucky where both of us are from, those educations are not being invested in in the same and not in compliance with the law in the same way that we see in other districts. It's a really disappointing moment for us here in Kentucky.
Renee Shaw: So unpack for us if you were elected and you would have to work with or go against a Republican-dominated legislature, how you’d do that?
Kimberley Reeder: So what the auditor can do is shine a light on places where there isn't compliance with the law and on this issue what that would mean is investigating, digging into all those details and then showing them to the Kentucky taxpayers. Showing them in eastern Kentucky, whether that means having town hall meetings and showing them the results that the auditor came up with, I would be willing to do that. But helping the people, that’s what the auditor's office is for so the people feel and can see independence and impartiality and I would present those findings to the people. As far as the auditor, the auditor is the investigator not the attorney general. However, I would make a referral to an attorney general who could subsequently follow-up on that. I would, I could send my, send my recommendations to the legislature. I certainly have a pretty firm backbone and could make those recommendations known, and, and would also, of course, be willing to cooperate to the extent that there was a willingness to cooperate.
Renee Shaw: Treasurer ball mentioned that during her time in office she’s worked on financial literacy in our education space and also she hasn't mentioned about working on savings accounts for those who have special needs. What would be an initiative that you would bring forth that’s outside of the traditional thinking and boundaries that we have for state auditor?
Kimberley Reeder: Well, I think what we're talking about with this education funding, I think that's one area that I would place a strong emphasis on. It's clear that public education is very important to me. I want to make sure that we're giving kids a chance to overcome barriers to success. And so I would welcome the opportunity to be involved with schools, whether it's through being able to teach, being able to mentor, I always love those sorts of opportunities. Another issue that’s very important to me that I mentioned earlier is domestic violence. That's an issue that we struggle in Kentucky with adverse childhood experiences and having a high rate of those with children, which of course impedes learning and growth throughout their childhoods to adulthood. And so really being able to focus on those sorts of issues and prevention, intervention, all issues involving kids are important to me because I believe that's our future. I know that.
Renee Shaw: Ms. Ball I will allow you to give a final pitch and appeal to the viewers who are with us tonight and Kentucky voters who wonder what the state auditor really does and how you would function in that office and help them understand better what the auditor does.
Allison Ball: Sure, like I said when we started off, if you want to know what I will be like as auditor, just look at what I’ve been like as treasurer. They’re both watchdogs. The treasurer is the watchdog on the front end – make sure that the bank account is protected. As attorney this is something that I really pay attention to, to make sure whatever is paid in Kentucky is legal, is constitutional, is correct. The auditor is the watchdog on the back end, make sure when something has been paid, the money is used correctly, processes are correct, and if not there is accountability for that. So I’ve been your treasurer for eight years. It’s been a tremendous honor to serve in that role. I do ask for a chance to be a watchdog now as the auditor. There's more tools available, more investigative opportunities, so I'm excited about it. I love this kind of work. I was a prosecutor for four years. I love to investigate and I love to make sure the right thing is being done. And I was a bankruptcy attorney for two years, so I’m ready to go. I think transparency is an important aspect of this, we didn’t get to touch on that very much, but I am a committed person of transparency. I launched the transparency website as treasurer.
Renee Shaw: And you would do the same as auditor?
Allison Ball: Yes. I’ve actually thought there's more opportunities to be, to allow information to be accessible to the public in the auditor's office than there is in the treasurer’s office. I was just able to do the executive branch in the treasurer's office. I’ve long wanted to get deeper and provide more county and city information, and the auditor's office is well placed to do that. So that’s something that I would like to tackle and I think is auditor's office is a wonderful place to expand that.
Renee Shaw: So a final word to you, Miss Reeder.
Kimberley Reeder: Well just as an initial point, I think it's hard for Ms. Ball to support a claim for transparency when her own attorney general came out and overturned a couple of open records requests that she denied in her time as treasurer. Transparency is a very important issue, and that's how our taxpayers have faith in the system. Candidly, just from a perspective of what my pitch is, I'm just the most qualified person for the job. Since I was 18 years old, I’ve succeeded over and over in challenging circumstances and competitive environments. Leave alone to attend Yale, studying public policy and law, and then building a career where I was named one of the top-10 tax lawyers in the country, and d large corporations sought me out for my advice. I'm smart, I'm very hard-working, I'm independent, which is an important characteristic for the auditor, and I care deeply about Kentucky and all Kentuckians, and I would put all of that to work in the auditor's office and as such would be honored to have your support.
Renee Shaw: Well thank you Miss Reeder, thank you Ms. Ball, we appreciate you being here this evening. We hope you will stay with us. After this quick break, you’ll hear from the candidates for state treasurer. Stay with us.
Candidates for Kentucky Treasurer
Renee Shaw: Thank you for staying with us, welcome back to Kentucky Tonight. We continue with the candidates for state treasurer. They are: Michael Bowman, the Democratic candidate. And Mark Metcalf, the Republican. We still want your questions and comments tonight, so send those by X – formerly Twitter – at k-y tonight k-e-t. Send an email to k-y tonight at k-e-t dot o-r-g. Or use the web form at k-e-t dot o-r-g slash k-y tonight. Or feel free to give us a call at 1-800-494-7605. Welcome to our new group of guests, we appreciate you gentlemen being here this evening.
Mark Metcalf: Thanks for having us.
Renee Shaw: Yes, thank you. Let's talk about the state’s chief financial office. CFO is how it’s sometimes referred to, the bookkeeper for the state, overseeing and tracking all funds and revenue. We'll start with Mr. Bowman first to give an introduction and tell us why you are qualified for this position?
Michael Bowman: Thank you, Renee, I appreciate it. First, I am a sixth-generation Kentuckian. I was born and raised in Louisville and for the better part of a decade spent time as a legislative assistant to the Louisville metro council. Left local government, became a bank officer for one of the largest banks in the country. When Governor Beshear was elected, he asked me to join his administration. So I worked with the lieutenant governor in her office as well as in the Education and Labor Cabinet overseeing a variety of federal grants, state-appropriated grants, and workforce development projects and programs across the commonwealth.
Renee Shaw: Ok, thank you so much. Mr. Metcalf, a little bit about you, sir.
Mark Metcalf: Thanks, Renee. I am a native of Garrard County. One of five children, we were all public education raised. I’m a graduate of U.K. and the U.K. Law School. I’m a career prosecutor and also served as a judge on the U.S. immigration court in Miami. I’m a veteran of Iraq and served with the 149th maneuver enhancement brigade when we closed American combat operations in Iraq in 2011.
Renee Shaw: So tell us why you want this job?
Mark Metcalf: Well, thanks, Renee, that’s a great question. Kentucky spends too much, it taxes too much, it borrows too much, and it saves too little. We need to be looking out for the taxpayers of this state, and holding Kentucky accountable on the spending side of the ledger so we spend our money wisely and we look for opportunities to save money. Not just spend money but to save money and make government more efficient and make Kentucky accountable to the taxpayers.
Renee Shaw: So where is there too much or excess spending in your view and where can money be saved?
Mark Metcalf: We can start saving money by paying down our debts. Kentucky has $16 billion in debt. Each taxpayer owes, each taxpayer owes $20,000 in taxes just in debt. And when they get up in the morning and go to bed at night, they have a $20,000 debt they didn't know they had. When we start paying down debts, we save interest payments and save for the future by investing in health care and education and the right places we want to put money.
Renee Shaw: So would you advocate for current government programs and services to be sliced in order to get to that debt reduction you desire?
Mark Metcalf: The first thing we need to be doing is paying down our debts. That will save more –
Renee Shaw: But how?
Mark Metcalf: Well, we pay down our debts, we pay down the bonded indebtedness of the state and we start.... Most of Kentucky's indebtedness is associated with one thing and that is the unfunded liabilities in our pension funds: $25.4 billion in unfunded obligations that happened over a period from, from 1994 to 2015 when 15 out of those 22 fiscal years we were not paying or we were not making our contributions to the pension funds.
Renee Shaw: But lawmakers are doing that over and above now. Almost 10 percent of the budget goes towards the unfunded liabilities.
Mark Metcalf: That’s exactly right, and instead of being, having a 30-year payout, now it looks like the payout is going to be more like 24 years to reach even. And just remember, in the year 2000, our pensions were 125 percent funded at that time. We can get back to that place. And then be creating wealth for Kentuckians at the same time.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Bowman, are you concerned about the level of unfunded liabilities or debt that the state is carrying when it has obligations that it has not yet met?
Michael Bowman: Well, you know, like any debt we need to take it seriously. But I think that we can look to how families manage debt. You have to finance a house, you have to finance a car. When we make expenditures and investments in Kentucky, having a healthy debt that we ensure that we payback, that we service appropriately, that we monitor and take our obligations responsibly, we can actually use that as a piece of that financial puzzle that we get to make as leaders of this commonwealth. And I --
Renee Shaw: So you think that the current level of the debt that Kentucky, that the state holds is sufficient, is fine?
Michael Bowman: Case in point, we've had debt upgrades in terms of the rate, the debt bond rating that we have as a commonwealth. We’ve had upgrades. You don't do that if we’re managing those things poorly. And I think something to... What my opponent has said is the unfunded liabilities in the year 2000, we had 125 percent of those liabilities covered. What happened? Unfortunately, the Republicans took control of the Senate and it took the pensions and how we fund those pensions on a path that led to where we are today. And I think the actions that we see from the legislature are not going to help: Reducing the income tax, increasing sales tax on services that would adversely affect the people who can least and ill afford it, and I think those are the types of things that will ultimately put us into an even deeper hole if we follow that. In fact, the, the recent income tax reduction that was attempted, there were triggers that sales tax had to generate a certain amount of revenue to be able for that to take effect. It failed and that’s because it is simply not enough offset for us to be able to settle all of our debts and ensure that we are providing the services as a government we're supposed to.
Renee Shaw: Do you believe, or do you agree with the legislative action on that income tax reduction plan?
Michael Bowman: I don't. I think, I think it puts the burden on people who least can afford it, especially when we look at sales tax as the solution.
Renee Shaw: Your quick opinion on that?
Mark Metcalf: It’s absolutely the right thing to do. When we look at states that have attempted this, such as and are using it now, take Tennessee. Kentucky with its peer group, every state bordering Kentucky with the exception of Illinois has a higher fiscal stability rating than Kentucky. And all of them have looked at getting rid of their income taxes, Tennessee in particular. So what we need to be doing is following the success. Not just following the money but following those, those policies which have proven successful. If we do that Kentucky will rise as Tennessee has risen.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Bowman, go ahead.
Michael Bowman: I would argue that Kansas would show us the complete opposite. They --
Renee Shaw: But Kansas didn’t have triggers in place, right?
Michael Bowman: They didn’t have triggers in place. They cut the income tax and they went through austerity measures that almost bankrupted their state.
Renee Shaw: But Kentucky did not follow that path and many will say that’s not the path that Kentucky took. Let me ask you, Mr. Bowman, real quickly: You said that you’re running for treasurer because it's time that the state had a treasurer who didn't just rubber stamp a bad policy but instead focuses on accountability and transparency. Where do you believe there needs to be more transparency.
Michael Bowman: Well I think we’ve seen actions from the legislature in the past couple of sessions where they’re removing the ability for the public to see in the light of day what work that they’re doing. I think anytime we that have a situation where we're putting things under the cloak of darkness, and we’re not keeping everything out in the open, I think we need to be more up front about how we are talking about our government, where our tax dollars are going, and how we can get that information to people. I will have to give the current treasurer some credit in that she established a website, but I think we can do better. I think we can get the treasurer's office and state government at large out into the public in a variety of ways to ensure that they know and understand where their tax dollars are going and what they are being spent on.
Renee Shaw: What are those ways?
Michael Bowman: Well, certainly expand the use of the web portal that would have that information readily available for them. Making sure that we work with local governments, cities, and municipalities to ensure that they are using those tools as well with, within their own communities. I think those are the easy, low-hanging-fruit ways that we can do that, and, you know, not taking steps as this legislature has done in putting that type of information further out of reach with some of the recent laws that they passed.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Metcalf, let me ask you: We know that there are more unscrupulous ways to defraud the government these days. What experience or ideas do you have in combating cyber fraud?
Mark Metcalf: Well, one of my early positions and remain my position from day one when I got into this race was to take the example of Garrard County. Ransomware got ahold of our EMS records. How did that affect Garrard County? It affected our billing cycle. It also affected proof that we could offer in court. What did we do? We didn't pay the Ransomware folks but what we did bring to bear was the most up-to-date security software that we could afford. And I’ve stated this in February when I appeared at the judges and magistrates conference that I wanted our cities and our counties to have the same security software available to them that Kentucky has available to its own accounts. And I intend that as an initial step to making sure that our money is safe wherever it is in public accounts.
Renee Shaw: So you mentioned earlier that Kentucky spends too much, taxes too much, and saves too little, but also you say that you had cut your staff by 20 percent at the Garrard County attorney's office. Would you do the same in the treasurer's office? What do you know about the staffing levels? Do you think they are appropriate, or do they need slicing?
Mark Metcalf: Well the first thing we don't do is do harm. That’s the first thing we don’t do. First of all, we look to see what our staffing needs are and determine whether the staffing needs are sufficient to meet the obligations of the office. If we have too many people working there, more than say we can afford and more than is efficient for the use of public monies, only then do we start looking at cutting staff. We don't want to cut off our nose to spite our face. We want to make sure we have enough troops to bring in the battle first.
Renee Shaw: Do you have any further comment on that, Mr. Bowman?
Michael Bowman: Well, I think as far as the... I will go back to you bringing up the, his comment, my opponent’s comment about we spend too much and save too little. We have the largest Rainy Day Fund in Kentucky's history. We have had the largest budget surplus in Kentucky’s history, and his party controls the legislature, Those are policy decisions that they’re making just as much as it is an executive branch that’s implementing those through our programs across the commonwealth. So I don't know that... I think that’s a little disingenuous to say that when the data in front of us tells us that’s not the case. And, you know, we can have philosophical debates about taxing and how is best appropriate to do that, certainly, but I think we need to be honest with the people of Kentucky when we have the largest Rainy Day Fund, when we have the largest budget surplus, we are clearly saving quite a bit in our own coffers to be able to do what we need to do, service debt, increase teacher pay, things that are on the table that will affect lives today.
Renee Shaw: I was going to ask you what would you say, recommend to the General Assembly are ways to invest, or use, or provide services for that extra money on hand?
Michael Bowman: Well, I think I will absolutely mirror what the governor's proposed. I think we need to make sure that we're making proper investments in education and that means investing in our educators, ensuring that they have the raises that they deserve. That... we all know teachers don't get paid nearly enough to do the job that they’re tasked to do, which is prepare the next generation of Kentuckians. And I think that that is a critical investment that we need to make now and ensure. It's not just educators themselves: Anyone who works in the education system. That means bus drivers, that means ensuring that we're paying the people that we're trusting to transport our children to school are getting paid appropriately. And I think that is going to resolve some of the problems. We can use that, invest that money there and reap the benefits.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Metcalf, any comment there?
Mark Metcalf: The first thing we need to be doing is looking how we save money, how we cut budgets if possible. We're always going to have more money than is needed to take care of our teachers and our schools if we are looking at the bottom lines at all times. I'm glad to know and it is true, we have $6 billion in our Rainy Day account. That all came from Republican leadership in our General Assembly beginning in 2016. In 2016, there were $26,000 worth of debt per taxpayer. Seven years later, it's $20,000 worth of debt per taxpayer under Republican leadership in our General Assembly. What I intend to do as state treasurer is identify those areas working with the oversight functions in our General Assembly and with our state auditor, regardless of party, and look at these items in order to make certain that we are deriving the best deal for our taxpayers, and that includes keeping in mind that the only time we should be going in debt is in times of state emergency, such as floods, and in times of the high winds, like in Graves County. But in those times, we spent $200 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. We didn't have to borrow a dollar. That means that the Kentucky legislature's efforts to save money have paid off.
Renee Shaw: And so they’re already doing their job, they’re already doing what you want them to do, right? They’re already saving and not spending as much.
Mark Metcalf: And let's keep on doing that. Now just because we're saving money now doesn't mean that we can't save more. It doesn't mean that we can work on budgets and derive greater benefit for our taxpayers by showing them that we can operate government in the same way that taxpayers have to operate their homes and businesses. The same kinds of decisions that have to be made in our homes and our businesses are the same kinds of decisions that our, that our governor and our legislators, and our cabinet officers need to be making.
Renee Shaw: So one of the things that have come out of this race ever since the primaries, the conversation about environmental, social, governance, ESGs and Mr. Metcalf, you were part of the discussion here in this very studio a few months ago during the Republican primary, and you talked about state government entities divesting from companies that have these interests where it's against fossil fuels or measures. Why is that an important position for the state treasurer to make a stand on?
Mark Metcalf: Well, let’s remember that the law says the state treasurer shall report to the General Assembly on those corporations wishing to invest Kentucky's monies, such as our pension funds, and reporting on whether these same money managers are discriminating against fossil fuels. Now, just last week, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, announced that the idea that Earth is heating so much that we need to turn our back on fossil fuels is a negative. What he’s saying is what we've always said all along, that fossil fuels are an efficient way to create energy throughout the United States. What happened in western Kentucky in this past winter? We had rolling blackouts from TVA because they weren't using fossil-fuels. What did we have in eastern Kentucky? We have six big mines going full tilt, miners are making more than they’ve made in years. Where is the coal going? Well, the foundry coal is going to China, but where did the thermal coal go? It went to North Carolina because green technologies had failed to do what they promised to do and that was deliver consistent energy at an affordable price. Green technology has in many respects been a failure. What I intend to do is champion the interests of our miners and our mine operators to see that we're delivering to Kentucky, Kentuckians the most affordable energy at the most affordable prices. That's what we should be doing.
Renee Shaw: And there are those who have allegiance to coal who recognize that the times call for a widening of that energy portfolio to include options like nuclear and solar and other ways of producing energy.
Mark Metcalf: And I agree with that. What we need --
Renee Shaw: and they are Republicans who say that --
Mark Metcalf: And they are Republicans. And they are in our legislature right now.
We should be looking, we should... Republicans have advocated a cafeteria plan when it comes to energy. Selecting those sources which are most beneficial and least inexpensive to our homeowners and business owners. It’s the smart thing to do, and coal fits into that mindset or that point of view that says we should be looking at all forms of energy.
Renee Shaw: So your perspective on this, Mr. Bowman, on ESGs and their role, and as state treasurer, how vocal would you be either for or against it.
Michael Bowman: Certainly. I think ESG is something that has been unnecessarily shaded with politics. You know, as you mentioned in the onset of the show, the treasurer is the chief financial officer ever of the commonwealth and that means you have a fiduciary responsibility. Anyone who does investment, has worked in banking, knows and understands that as a fiduciary you have to look at the whole picture, not just a piece of it. And I think when we don't use things like ESG, which the vast majority of people don't realize it is meant to ensure that we're doing business with people that don't pollute our environment, that are socially responsible, and they have leadership within their companies that are willing to hold themselves accountable. And people who are anti-ESG are effectively telling you they’re ok with polluting and being socially irresponsible and having CEOs that bail on their company with a golden parachute. And that’s what’s wrong here. It’s a piece of a greater puzzle. It’s not simply to enforce a green energy agenda. It is something that we look at. There are plenty of fossil-fuel companies that actually do the right things that would qualify highly on ESG scores because they mitigate their impacts. They have leadership that is holding their company accountable for what they're doing. And I think that is something else about this, we don't think about when you are fiduciary, you look at, you look at all the risks. And that’s something we need to do here is, is we take into account if a company's doing something poorly or investing money in them and we’re trying to get returns out of this company. But what happens when there's litigation because of a coal mine disaster that they caused because of not doing the right things? And we had an opportunity to look into that before we invested in that company and it costs us money at the end. So I think, you know, we have to look at it holistically and it’s a piece of the puzzle, and I think that’s one of the misleading thing with ESG comes out. I fully support using those principles as a piece of what we look at when we make our investments.
Renee Shaw: So let’s talk about unclaimed property, which is what most people are familiar with the state treasurer’s office – the statewide lost and found. This can be anything from payroll checks, unclaimed safety deposit boxes, old life insurance policies, etc., stocks. You have said, Mr. Bowman, that there is a way to streamline this process, maybe make it more robust and accessible for those who are trying to find something on the statewide lost and found. What is that, and how would you make it happen?
Michael Bowman: Certainly. I think what we need to do -- the biggest complaint I hear from people with regards to unclaimed property is the fact it's overly, it’s an overly cumbersome process to be able to make the claim and receive the property that is theirs. I think we have technology today that can make this significantly more intuitive, streamline it for the individual to make it less cumbersome, and also help the treasurer's office be more effective in getting those unclaimed properties back to those people. And you know, over the last 16 years, we've seen that fund balloon from $200 million to $800 million as of the state treasurer's most recent report on her own website. That tells us there that we're not – we may be doing record amounts of getting property back that has been claimed but we're also building that fund up to record levels to begin with, and I think that we really need to look at where we can make those investments and ensure that the people of Kentucky, similar to the transparency and accountability, that we are getting that information out there, engaging with local and county governments to make sure everybody knows.
Renee Shaw: So digitizing more government processes seems like a way to go, but what about those who don’t have access quite yet, or they lack the digital literacy to navigate those tools to do that. How would you reach that population?
Michael Bowman: There's always going to be people that need a little bit more hands on assistance with things with the treasurer's office. And I think that the technology is the first step that can alleviate a lot of these problems and that give us the flexibility at the office to be able to focus on those individuals that need a little bit more assistance and engaging, like I said, with local and county governments to provide portals and avenues through their systems and services in their own communities that can assist with that as well.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Metcalf?
Mark Metcalf: Let’s take the Ohio model. The Ohio model says that most of the people applying for funds from the unclaimed monies will claim $500 or less. They have already setup a program so that you can apply if you are getting money from an estate, let's say, that you can apply for sums, $500 or less, and get that money and bypass the probate process altogether. We need to adopt the same thing in Kentucky. As far as the rest of this is concerned from amounts greater we can always use our circuit clerk's offices so they can accept applications for unclaimed funds and then pass those applications on to the treasurer's office. So that it's just one stop along the way and we have, and we can use county attorney's offices for the same purposes. And those applications are actually mailed directly to the treasurer's office and there is no review that takes place at the local level. It all goes to the treasurer's office. This is just one more way to reach out. I am the only candidate on either side that has served in county office. I'm the only present county officer running for state office. I do understand how these things can have a large impact at the local level but we have to be able to educate and then accept these types of applications so that people can get their monies worth from the treasurer's office.
Renee Shaw: And provide an appropriation to help the county offices work in that capacity?
Mark Metcalf: No, ma'am. No, just take the applications and send them on to the state treasurer's office. We're not talking about creating a new duty. We're talking about accepting an application and mailing it, which is a large part of what county attorney's offices do and circuit clerk's offices do on a daily basis. They also digitize all the records. So do we.
Renee Shaw: So in the final three minutes we have remaining let me ask you: The current treasurer has initiated such programs such as financial literacy that did become a law, STABLE accounts for those who have disabilities to have a savings account for them. What would be the bold idea that would you bring to the state treasurer's office, Mr. Metcalf?
Mark Metcalf: Thank you, great question. First of all, the most important thing we can do is educate our kids. That’s number one, but let's think about how we do that. I favor not just one block of instruction in your senior year to learn about how America got as great as it did through its fiscal strength and its economic dynamism. I favor starting to teach the courses as part of larger instruction beginning in the grades, and if we do that, we’ll be preparing children to learn greater lessons as they move through high school. Let’s also not forget that we can start teaching the types of things at, in high school such as carpentry, joinery, electricity so that when not just in the vocational schools but right there in our classrooms in high schools so that when a student graduates, they are ready to go to work. They’re an apprentice and they can start doing the work of making, that will allow them to make $40 to $50 to $60,000 a year. We're missing out on that opportunity right now and I favor programs that will accelerate these young people joining the workforce.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Bowman, your idea?
Michael Bowman: First off, I would be the first treasurer in nearly 40 years elected that has any type of professional training or formal education in finance, and I think that’s important because that gives me the perspective not only from a private sector point of view, but also from a public sector having worked in both local and state governments to be able to put those together to be effective in the office. I certainly agree education is critical and paramount but the way the program is setup today it does not push the limits of what we can do to ensure financial literacy at all levels from K-12 across the commonwealth. Establishing a consistent curriculum in Kentucky will be a critical piece of that. And I think for me is expanding this office's influence, partnering with the governor and to be able to ensure that we're building our economy to take advantage of the opportunities that we've seen over the last three years in governor Beshear's leadership. And I think that’s where I would be uniquely qualified to, to be able to push those through and ensure we're doing the right things for the people of Kentucky.
Renee Shaw: Well Mr. Bowman, Mr. Metcalf, we thank you for being here tonight and enlightening the voters of Kentucky. And we thank you for joining us this evening. Next Monday we’ll have conversations with the candidates for secretary of state and commissioner of agriculture. You’ll see the candidates for governor on October 23. Also be sure to join us each weeknight at 6:30 Eastern, 5:30 Central for Kentucky Edition. Of course, Bill Bryant and a team of working journalists will be here at the end of the week on Friday to discuss the news of the week at 8 Eastern, 7 Central. Thank you for watching tonight and I’ll see you tomorrow night for Kentucky Edition.