Renee Shaw: Good evening, welcome to Kentucky Tonight, I’m Renee Shaw. Thank you so much for joining us. A week ago, you saw the candidates for governor here on Kentucky Tonight. Well, this evening, we’re joined by their running-mates as we conclude our month-long series of conversations with the candidates running in the November 7th election. Our guests this evening in Lexington are Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. And state Senator Robby Mills of Henderson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. We want you to 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 simply give us a call 1-800-494-7605. Well welcome, candidates, we appreciate you being here this evening for your one and only joint appearance and we feel privileged to be able to offer that to the Kentucky viewers and votes tonight. Un, let’s begin just with questions. Since the 1992 constitutional amendment that put the governor and the lieutenant governor on the same ticket, Kentucky has not seen a lieutenant governor rise to the top spot. Is it your aspiration to be governor, and if circumstances led to it, are you ready and prepared to step into that role in the next four years, and I’ll start with you, Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman.
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, first of all, thanks for having me, Renee, and, uh, it’s been an honor to serve as Lieutenant Governor certainly for the last for years and, uh, what has made those four years so worthwhile to me is the, is the teamwork between Governor Beshear and myself. We have a lot of work left to do over the next four years. And I’ve never been one to plan out too far ahead. I try to do the next right thing and, and see what comes. And so right now, we’re really focused on November 7th, as, as are most Kentuckians, and then after that, it will be finishing the job that we started in 2019.
Renee Shaw: Do you feel that these last four years that, well the three-and-a-half that you’re in now have prepared you adequately to be governor should you have to assume that role?
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, first, let’s hope that nothing bad happens, right? But I, you know, sitting beside the governor, uh, making those tough decisions, uh, talking budget, uh, figuring out how we can show up for Kentuckians every single day has been an honor and it’s been, uh, certainly a, a learning process as any new role is. But I do feel after the last four years working alongside the governor that the work that we have done to improve Kentucky and to move this commonwealth forward is something that has prepared me should, you know, the worst-case scenario happen. That’s why Andy Beshear picked me and that’s why I’m lieutenant governor right now.
Renee Shaw: Senator Mills, good to see you and thank you for being here this evening. Robby Mills: Yes, ma’am.
Renee Shaw: -- Same question to you. You’ve had a storied career in the Kentucky General Assembly in the House and the Senate, but are you prepared, uh, to be lieutenant governor first and should you have to step into that role as governor, are you ready and able to do so?
Robby Mills: Well, Renee, I was really focused on being a senator and got a phone call about 14 weeks ago from Daniel Cameron to ask me to join the ticket. And as you mentioned, I have quite of legislative experience and local government experience. Uh, I’m a small-business owner. I believe I know how to answer the call when the call is made. And, uh, uh, feel like I’m prepared to serve as lieutenant governor, and would be prepared to be governor as well. Uh, I enjoy public service, been doing it over 25 years. Love Kentucky and love serving the people that live in this great state.
Renee Shaw: What do you see your role if you’re elected to be lieutenant governor as being? What kind of capacity would you like to be? Would you like to be a working lieutenant governor, have a cabinet post? How do you see the role being filled --
Robby Mills: Absolutely. Part of our conversation that Daniel and I had when he asked me to join the ticket had to do with bridging, un, the legislative and executive branches. Renee, we’ve had eight years of governors that just ignored the legislative process and the legislative branch. I think it’s an important part of state government and I think that I, uh, would be able to, along with Daniel, to bridge that gap. We have relationships in the legislature and getting things done for Kentucky involves relationships, involves knowing people. And I believe we’ve got those established and we will establish them even more as we work. One of the things we’ve done, we’ve put out some plans talking about education and crime. We’ve vetted those with the legislative leaders already, so we’re ready to go on day one.
Renee Shaw: So you see yourself as being a legislative liaison, would that be a cabinet post or just as a senior advisor-type role?
Robby Mills: Probably more of an advisor but we, we really haven’t gotten to that point, uh, as the Lieutenant Governor said, we’re really all focused on Election Day, and at that point we will move forward.
Renee Shaw: Uh, Lieutenant Governor, you served as secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet before you stepped down a couple of years ago. Uh, talk to us about how you see, if elected, the next four years being, and what would you do? What would be your key focus should you be lieutenant governor for a second term.
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, I think it’s important to note that, you know, that in my time as lieutenant governor over the last almost four years now, uh, you know, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but it’s important to look before that, right? So what has, what has framed my perspective as lieutenant governor and that is spending my life in the classroom. And so every challenge we face, I look at it through the lens of the kids in my classroom and their families. And I also know that the future of Kentucky’s economy is in our classrooms today. So, when we look at the progress we’ve made under Governor Beshear’s leadership, Kentucky is number two in the nation in economic development. We are number three in rural job creation. But we cannot stay that way if we continue to have teacher pay in the mid-40s, and we continue to underfund the largest employer in every rural county, and that’s our public school system. And so that is exactly what I will keep working on and fighting for is to make sure that not only do we build a better economy in Kentucky, but we have the foundation of that economy as strong as we can possibly have it, and that’s our public school system.
Renee Shaw: We’ll talk about education and economic development a little bit, but one topic that we haven’t talked about during our round of candidate conversations is energy and the environment. And I want to go to you Senator Mills, you pushed for legislation to protect coal-fired power plants from being retired and also to divest state funds from investment firms that use climate-conscious policies, ESG as we heard it, environmental, social, governance. Do you believe the scientific evidence that climate change is real, and that fossil fuels are a contributing factor?
Robby Mills: Renee, let me, uh, touch about energy. I think that, uh, this administration has watched the Biden Administration destroy coal jobs and our coal economy in this state. I think we, we have 10 or 15 years coming up where electrical power is going to be very sparse in Kentucky if we allow, uh, the federal government to bully its way through and allow coal-fired plants to be retired, and allow these utilities to shut down, uh, the, uh, coal-fired plants without proof that they’re at their end of usage. We have got to have that base-load generation for the state of Kentucky to run battery plants, to run homes, all of these things. We are going to be short on power and I believe Andy Beshear has allowed the federal government to wipe out the energy sector in Kentucky, and it’s dangerous not only for jobs but also for the future and for industrial development. You know, recently in Nebraska, they kept open a coal-fired plant just to make sure they had enough energy to run their new battery plant. I really think that that is an issue that’s going to come up here with the Ford battery plant and the other things that are coming on line that are going to require power. We’re going to be short of power and I think it’s going to be the number-one issue in Kentucky over the next 10 years, whether we can have reliable energy in the state of Kentucky.
Renee Shaw: As you very well know because you’ve spoken before the Public Service Commission in recent months, I think it was in August in Madisonville, with coal miners there behind you, LG&E and KU have a proposal to shutter those, uh, multiple coal-fired generating units and replace them with natural gas and renewable energy. They say that rate payers will pay more for outdated coal-fired power if they’re not allowed to retire those plants. Are you siding with the coal companies over the rate-paying consumers?
Robby Mills: No. I, I think you allow coal generation to operate as it has over the last 50 years, where long-term contracts can be put in place, coal-powered generation is economical, the most economical way to power our state. And it would result in lower utility bills. The problem is that fossil fuel companies are working against the curve as the federal government pursues an ideological move that we’re not ready for, or that the folks back home do not want.
Renee Shaw: I’m going to go back to my original question about climate change, do you believe the science of climate change and that fossil fuels are a contributing factor?
Robby Mills: Yeah. I believe that, uh, I believe that climate change is not as big as what the, it, it appears to be. I believe that there are, uh, effects that industry puts forward that could raise the temperature, but it’s not as large of a raise as they’re talking about. I believe that we can move forward and attack that issue but we could still use fossil fuels and burn, uh, burn more effectively and burn more economically.
Renee Shaw: So, Miss Coleman, I want to go to you: 93 percent of the state’s energy portfolio comes from fossil fuels. Uh, coal proponents believe it, as he just said, Mr. Mills, is the most reliable, cost effective energy source. Where does the administration stand on backing the coal industry while also weighing the environmental concerns and interests?
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, uh, two things can be true here. First, I’ll tell you climate change is real. And, uh, the second thing I can tell you is the governor and I are honored to be endorsed by the United Mine Workers as well as the coal operators. And so it, our approach when we talk about energy is to make sure that we have an all of the, all-of-the-above approach. We have to make sure that every kind of energy available to us is, is online, on the gird, and available and ready to go, and, and, uh, as my opponent mentioned, we’ve got two of the largest battery plants in the entire world coming to Kentucky. And so, you know, we’re doing our part in making sure that we are, uh, driving the, uh, the, uh, electric vehicle battery, uh, companies. We are making sure that we have a lithium recycling plant in, in Hopkinsville. We have the cleanest, greenest paper mill in the world in, uh, in Henderson, Kentucky. So, I think it’s really important, though to point out one thing. We talk about energy and coal and money a whole lot. I want to make sure we talk about the people who do that back-breaking work. We know coal powered this country, uh, and the folks who have done that work, who have sacrificed their bodies, who have gone into those mines day in and day out, and, and their families certainly struggled with that as well, uh, have, have the right to have the best health care that they can possibly have. And my opponent was, was one of the folks in the legislature who actually voted to make it more difficult for coal miners to have, uh, doctors that could help diagnose black lung. And so, this isn’t just about industry and, and, uh, and energy and money, this is about people. This, this is about families and making sure that we take care of the people who take care of us.
Renee Shaw: So, the questions obviously to come next is what would the Beshear-Coleman Administration number two do to address the concerns and issues that coal miners who suffer from black lung disease face?
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, we believe health care’s a basic human right and at every opportunity we have, we have worked to expand access, to improve quality, and to make sure that Kentuckians when they’re sick can see a doctor. Uh, and, you know, I think about everything from, we’re talking about rural Kentucky right now, uh, out in eastern Kentucky, but we expanded Medicaid and our rural hospitals depend on that. Uh, just a few weeks ago, the governor got to announce the first hospital in the west end of Louisville in over 150 years. He expanded Medicaid to include dental, vision, and hearing so that folks who have those challenges, that’s something keeping, that’s keeping them out of the workforce, they can get back in the workforce. Uh, and I think we, we’ve already seen and heard several times that, uh, our opponent, uh, Daniel Cameron, when he filled out one of the surveys in Northern Kentucky Right to Life, he promised that he would help take away protections for preexisting conditions for 600,000 Kentuckians. That’s not, that’s not taking care of the people who take care of us.
Renee Shaw: So, I want you to answer that, Mr. Mills.
Robby Mills: Let me go back to energy: I just want to make the point, we are in a critical, critical point on energy in the state of Kentucky. Uh, Andy Beshear has allowed Joe Biden to run the fossil fuels and fossil-fuel jobs out of Kentucky. That is a big issue moving forward. I do not think we’re going to have enough power to power homes, and we’re going to see black-outs and brown-outs moving forward. Now, you’re question?
Renee Shaw: So the next question that, and I want to get to Medicaid work requirements, let’s stick here with energy just a moment: What would the Cameron-Mills Administration do to help coal miners who suffer from black lung?
Robby Mills: Right. Uh, I, I mean, I think that coal miners that have injuries, long-term injuries obviously deserve workers’ compensation. What she is referring to is a change in unemployment insurance that we made to save employers and employees time and money, uh, uh, about three years ago. So, I’m fine with black lung participants receiving the care that they need. We’re for that and we would like to see that.
Renee Shaw: But did that legislation three years ago make it more difficult?
Robby Mills: I do not think so. Uh, there still are doctors that can read the x-rays. Uh, there’s all the qualified staff across, uh, the state that black lung recipients need to prove their case.
Renee Shaw: Final question, I think, on energy and environment: Environmental groups’ research shows that many of the towns most heavily impacted by last summer’s floods were located where strip mining activity was most prominent. Do you believe that strip mining has left some land in eastern Kentucky vulnerable to fatal floods and what should be done about it, Mr. Mills?
Robby Mills: You know, I am from western Kentucky and have a lot more experience in western Kentucky coal fields and strip mines there. I know that they are required to reclaim that land and put in, uh, boulders, rocks, you know, barriers that help hold the land. Uh, I believe that’s a heavily regulated industry and that those construction projects, when they are cleared and the bonds are released, I trust that those, that work is overseen well.
Renee Shaw: Miss Coleman.
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, when we go back, uh, and, and make this point because my opponent is on record voting against providing black lung health care to folks who have done this work, uh, throughout the course of their lives, and they deserve, uh, that protection. And again, we’ve seen that our opponent has also vowed to make sure that he would work to take away health care protections for over 600,000 Kentuckians. That, that’s indisputable, that’s on record, and that’s a fact. When it comes to making sure that, uh, folks in eastern Kentucky certainly recovering from the challenges that have happened, one of the things that we’ve really worked hard to do is create more high-ground, uh, homes and neighborhoods. The governor was just out in eastern Kentucky, uh, I think it was last week, and they’re breaking ground and celebrating, helping to make sure that those homes are built in a way that would not obviously lead to the devastating flooding that we have seen before, and it’s entire neighborhoods. And so, moving forward, making sure that we learn from, uh, the mistakes of the past and are giving people the opportunity to, to live on high ground is something that we have committed to do and that we’re on the way to getting done right now in eastern Kentucky.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Mills, Miss Coleman has said that there is a, uh, a role for all of these types of energy sources to play, I’m not for sure of the exact phraseology, but whether it’s solar, renewable, coal. Does the Cameron-Mills, uh, would an administration under Camreron-Mills also embrace other renewable sources of energy to broaden the portfolio that Kentucky now has?
Robby Mills: Absolutely. I think it’s an all-of-the-above approach, uh, but I have to, you know, tell you that wind and solar are inter, intermittent. Coal and natural gas are constant ,all the time base-load. That’s what industries need, that’s what Kentucky needs to have resilient and reliable electricity that we need to grow this state and to keep our standard of living the way it is right now.
Renee Shaw: I want to go back to a point that Miss Coleman made about, uh, you all proposing to take away health insurance from what 600,000 Kentuckians. Will you answer that, and then we’ll also talk about the Medicaid requirement, uh, rules, the rules for getting Medicaid that the, your ticket has proposed.
Robby Mills: Sure. I, I’m assuming she’s talking about work requirements and, uh, uh, we have a workforce issue in the state of Kentucky, and I think there are far too many people that are sitting at home that are being encouraged by the policies of this governor to stay at home and stay out of the workforce. That’s where want, if they are able-bodied and they’re able to work, uh, and they need to go to work, and that’s just will help our economy, help fix the workforce issue, partially fix the workforce issue that we have.
Renee Shaw: So, I will, go ahead --
Jacqueline Coleman: Yeah, I’ve got to jump in here. You know, this disparaging of, of Kentucky workers has gone on far too long. Uh, we have companies all over this country picking us and they’re picking us because of our people. Over half of the Medicaid recipients in Kentucky are working. These folks need and deserve good-paying jobs, which is exactly what the governor and I working to do is bring good-paying jobs to Kentucky to alleviate that. Now, when we talk about the workforce, you have to be two things: You have to be educated and trained, and you have to be healthy. And so, when the governor expanded Medicaid to cover dental, vision, and hearing, that was the purpose of that. Uh, the other issue is education. You know, my opponent has been in the Senate, in the legislature for six years. For years and years and years, the biggest barrier to folks attaining a GED has been the cost of the GED. I was in office as lieutenant governor for one month and I was eight months pregnant and got the fees for GED, GEDs waived in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and over 8,000 Kentuckians have taken advantage of it. This is about removing barriers, this is about lifting up Kentuckians, and making sure that they have what they need to be successful. That’s the job of leadership.
Robby Mills: Renee, you know, the fact is, fewer people are working today than when they came in office. We have a work, workforce issue, and the policies that they have put forward have, are encouraging people to stay at home. The expansion of Medicaid is encouraging people not to work and stay out of the workforce. We need to solve that. They’ve had four years to solve that, they have not solved that. We need to solve that.
Jacqueline Coleman: Over 50 percent of Kentuckians on Medicaid are working. When, when the governor expanded Medicaid to cover dental, vision, and hearing, it was for workforce purposes. If you can’t get glasses, uh, then you may not be able to drive to work. You may not be able to see to do these things. These are common-sense solutions that you can put on the table and see the difference that they make, and my opponent voted against that.
Renee Shaw: What you all are proposing, Mr. Mills, would require a federal waiver, which would have to be petitioned in the Biden Administration CMS, so the likelihood of that happening is probably slim and none, right? So, is that realistic to even have that goal at this juncture?
Robby Mills: Well, I think we need to ask. I think we need to probe the federal government for that and put our case forward. We also need to go to the legislature and work with them, which I mentioned earlier we have relationships where we can work to make that, uh, make our workforce better, to develop our workforce, and move forward and solve the workforce issue.
Renee Shaw: So, Miss Coleman, in order to fill what are tens of thousands of vacant jobs in Kentucky, why not have some rules for Medicaid eligibility for able-bodied Kentuckians who could work?
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, again, over, over half of the folks that are on Medicaid are working, and so, you know, I think it’s important when we go back to the point that I made earlier about how these companies across this country are picking us. Ford chose Kentucky to make the largest investment it’s ever made, and they would not have done if they didn’t have faith in Kentuckians. Governor Beshear and I do, too, and we lift up this workforce every single day. We’re trying to remove barriers so that we can help folks get back into the workforce, and most recently the governor, uh, announced that he wants, he is putting in the budget $15 million to work with the Kentucky Chamber but regional chambers for specific, uh, uh, advertisements and marketing to be able to make sure to pull people to Kentucky. For the first time in a long time, we’re not talking about how we don’t have enough jobs because the governor has brought in 50,000 jobs over the last three or four years under his leadership. And so now it’s a matter of making sure that we have people who are healthy enough, who are educated enough, and also making sure that we’re recruiting people to this commonwealth.
Renee Shaw: So that would be recruiting people who are out of state to relocate to Kentucky, is that what you’re saying?
Jacqueline Coleman: Uh-huh.
Renee Shaw: So, let’s stick there with jobs and workforce participation. The BlueOval SK battery plant in Hardin County, the promise of 5,000 jobs. We know that there could be a delay there with the second plant there. Uh, but I’ve heard that there are some small businesses who are concerned about losing their workers to higher-paying jobs at the new plant. How would the Beshear-Coleman Administration address that strain that these companies may be feeling once those plants are operational.
Jacqueline Coleman: So, when we talk about making sure that our workforce is prepared, one of the things that we have done is created a pipeline from ECTC for the local high school, area high schools and making, making sure that those folks are being trained for specific jobs as they moved forward. Working in the community, I just did, I actually just did a workforce summit down in that area with some other companies, talking about how we can make sure that folks are ready, and that they are going to take on these jobs, uh, they’re the jobs of the future and they’re already here. One of the plans that the governor has put into pace is an Everybody Counts plan, and that is to make sure that we are not losing one single senior as they walk across that graduation stage. Some of them might want to go, uh, to college, two or four -year degree, or apprenticeship. But for those who maybe don’t have a plan, we want to help get them into a, a job that can become a career, that can change the life of their, their life but also their future family’s life. And as we expand that across the commonwealth, we’re making sure that we support, you know, whether it’s a big business that’s hiring 5,000 people or the small businesses in those local areas as well.
Renee Shaw: So, Mr. Mills.
Robby Mills: Yeah, Renee, you, you hit the nail on the head. You know, small businesses and medium-sized businesses are struggling in Kentucky. Why are they struggling? It’s inflation, I mean it’s taken a bite out of everybody’s pocket. Inflation is costing $7 or $800 more for a family for the essentials that are there. That inflation is brought on by federal policies and state policies. Uh, Joe Biden and the inflation that’s coming down on us, Andy Beshear has endorsed Joe Biden for four more years, and inflation is the biggest problem that we have in rural and middle Kentucky. It’s, it’s an issue for employers and employees alike.
Renee Shaw: So, let’s talk about one of the big barriers for many to reenter or to stay in the workforce and that’s child care. So according to the Kentucky Chamber Foundation report, more than 45,000 Kentuckians struggle to get and remain in the workforce because of access and affordability to child care. For families who need child care for five days a week, this is just one little kiddo, 50 weeks a year, that’s nearly $9,000 a year — more than full-time tuition at a community college. What should be done to ease parents’ child care burden, Senator Mills?
Robby Mills: Well child care, uh, before the pandemic was an issue. It was hard to find places. Uh, when they shut down the economy, Andy Beshear and Jacqueline Coleman shut down the economy, those child care, uh, businesses went away. Many of them went out of business, and we still receive emails weekly from the child care businesses that are trying to get, get back in the flow, the economic flow. And there are some federal funds and state funds that these child care businesses have been receiving that are about run out and we have got to figure out how to get child care back open, uh, less regulation, uh, and allow them to get back up in business so, uh, ladies and gentlemen can get back to work.
Renee Shaw: So, less regulation means what? Can you translate that into something specific?
Robby Mills: Well, you know, you don’t want to have an owner or a manager of a child care facility spending, you know, you know, 30, 40 yours a week on bureaucracy and paperwork and inspections and things of that nature. They have to be safe, child care centers need to be safe for the children, but there’s a lot of hoops to jump through to qualify to be a child care facility.
Renee Shaw: Miss Coleman.
Jacqueline Coleman: Universal pre-K for every four-year-old in Kentucky. We are looking at the largest Rainy Day Fund and the largest budget surplus we’ve ever had, and the excuse has always been that we don’t have the money. We can’t fund it. Quite frankly I don’t think we can afford not to. Uh, not just because it is an investment in the future of Kentucky’s commonwealth, but because it is a workforce solution. Uh, Washington, D.C. implemented universal pre-K for every four-year-old, and their workforce participation rate improved by 10 percent. That’s huge. I know we’re not D.C., but that’s just an example of the kind of impacts something like that can have. But then let’s talk about the, the, the investment that that makes over the course of a child’s life, right? We have two-thirds of Kentucky’s kids walking in the door on the first day of kindergarten ill-prepared. Making sure that every child no matter their zip code has access to one year of universal pre-K as a four-year-old will vastly improve those numbers. We know that prison populations are projected by third grade literacy rates. So, we can’t wait ‘til second and third grade to try to catch kids up who have fallen behind because they didn’t have access to universal pre-K like, you know, other, other kids in other areas did. So universal pre-K for every four-year-old in Kentucky is something that I think our families are crying out for. I’ve seen that the Chamber of Commerce, who speaks for the business community, supports, and Governor Beshear and I have made sure to budget it, uh, both last year and it will be again this year.
Renee Shaw: How much is it, the cost?
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, you know, when we look at the, the four-year-olds, uh, the rates, what I can tell you is, I know that, uh, we’ve got enough funding, uh, more than enough funding because of the Rainy Day Fund and the budget surplus to cover both that and the 11-percent raise for every person that works in the school district, which is exactly what we need to make sure to keep moving our economy forward.
Robby Mills: Well, the, the truth is that she doesn’t know how much, uh, pre-K is going to be. And, you know, Daniel and I have committed to looking at that. We would like to study universal pre-K, but I think we need to do K-12 right and fund it right first before we start spending, you know, if we’re going to spend money, let’s spend money where we’ve already got 12, you know K through12 education and where we can continue to invest in that.
Renee Shaw: So, Senator Mills, by the statement that you just made, it, it appeared to say that we were not funding K through12 adequately --
Jacqueline Coleman: We’re not. I can tell you we’re not.
Renee Shaw: -- although Republicans have been touting that the SEEK funding formula has seen record levels in the past couple of bienniums --
Robby Mills: Right.
Renee Shaw: -- so what’s the truth here? Is it being funded adequately or not?
Robby Mills: It is, it is being funded, but there’s always, we can always do better in K-12, K-12 education. One of the things that Daniel and I put forward is the Cameron Catch-Up Plan. Our kids are way behind. They need tutoring, they need individually tutoring to catch them up from the two years that they were out of school, that they were having these Zoom classes. The Cameron Catch-Up Plan would also have raises for teachers, improve discipline in the classroom, and cut a lot of the bureaucracy that our teachers are caught up in and so they can teach and not be administrators in the classroom.
Renee Shaw: So, what’s the price tag of the Cameron Catch-Up Plan?
Robby Mills: Uh, we believe it’s around $90 million to $100 million. And, you know, these, most of what the Cameron Catch-Up Plan is one-time costs to catch our kids up. You know, these, we need to make sure that when we’re investing, which this is a great place to invest in education, and when we’re investing that they’re one-time costs and we know what those one-time costs are. That’s the way to conservatively budget our money like we’ve been doing in the legislature for the last five or six years. And that’s why we have the balance that we have in our Rainy Day Fund is because of conservative budgeting, budgeting and tax changes that we’ve made.
Renee Shaw: So, Lieutenant Governor, I want to ask you about learning loss because we know that many kids have struggled and we know that academic outcomes were already on the slide before COVID exacerbated even more after COVID. Has the Beshear-Coleman Administration done enough to address learning loss, not by proposing the hire more teachers so that you have a math teacher who can teach a kid math? Not that but a direct plan to get and to mitigate learning loss and to catch kids up? Where have you all been on that?
Jacqueline Coleman: So, I was in a classroom when my opponent tried to cut, uh, my pension through the sewer bill in the dark of night, and so to hear, hear someone who literally tried to take the only safety that my husband and I have, uh, and our pension away talk about the, the, the key is to adequately fund education, I can’t believe what I just heard. When we talk about making sure that kids have what they need, it is not a one and done. You cannot say, oh, this is a one-time investment and it’s taken care of, that’s not now education works. When we talk about making sure that our kids have what they need for years and years, we’ve had numbers like instructional materials zeroed out in the budget. Uh, professional development for teachers zeroed out in the budget. Those are tangible things, technology, those are things that you can invest in and make sure that schools have what they need so that they can do what we need them to do.
Renee Shaw: So, to get to that point because we do know that those educational support programs have not been funded in the last few years, Senator Mills, you were part of voting for those budgets. Uh is it disingenuous to say you’re going to catch kids up when you didn’t support keeping them academically in progress, uh, when you could have.
Robby Mills: Well, you have to remember we gave flexible spending money SEEK dollars back to the school systems to fund and have some, have some flexibility on how they spend their money. If they want to spend it on the programs, that the 12 programs that we talked about that were eliminated. We increased SEEK funding $100 per student the first year, another $100 the second year. So, we have consistently, and we’re at the highest level of education funding that we’ve ever been at, and we have consistently, we’ve added to transportation, we’ve done things conservatively and, and in a measured way as we fund education.
Jacqueline Coleman: Let me just say that, that, if you say that you have funded education at the highest levels ever and it is wholly inadequate and completely inequitable, that is how bad of a job you have doing at funding education.
Renee Shaw: So, let’s talk about that because we know that there was a report by Kentucky Center for Economic Policy who said the gaps between the wealthy and the poor districts has widened to levels that were pre-KERA back when it was declared unconstitutional in 1989. Uh, Mr. Mills, your response to that? What would you do to make funding more equitable between those poor districts and the wealthier districts?
Robby Mills: Well, I think, I think our funding mechanism is, is fine. We are funding SEEK dollars, we are funding transportation at the highest level ever. I’d be interested to see what a study said. If it is inequitable and if it is, we need to look at that because Daniel Cameron and I are committed to funding education and being a part of this, this commonwealth and raising the standard of education even better than what we’re doing right now.
Renee Shaw: So, we know that when Jefferson County Public School had their bus debacle at the beginning of the year, uh, we learned that they had been slighted, uh, several million dollars over the last four years. It equaled like $104 million worth of school transportation dollars. Was that a neglect and oversight of the Kentucky General Assembly that could’ve prevented some of the situations we saw on the first day of school?
Robby Mills: I don’t think so. They’re measuring SEEK transportation and transportation at 100 percent. Ever since I’ve been in the legislature and ever since I’ve looked back, transportation has not been 100 percent funded. It’s been funded at a percentage of what the, what transportation is said to cost, and the local, the local governments have picked that up and continued on with, with the funding that way.
Jacqueline Coleman: The law says transportation should be funded at 100 percent. It has been funded at around 50 percent for years. I think. I don’t think it’s been fully funded since about 2005 --
Robby Mills: We’ve funded at 70 percent --
Jacqueline Coleman: -- You cannot say that you were fully funding public education and giving our schools and teachers and kids what they need if you tried to secretly take away the pensions of all those teachers, and the foundation of your education plan is school vouchers, that we know is a scheme that will take funding from public schools and hide that, hide it unaccountable private schools. Not only is that a bad decision for schools, it’s a bad deal for taxpayers.
Renee Shaw: So, let’s talk about that. I want to go back to what Miss Coleman referred to as the sewer bill. You remember this, Senator Mills, you were behind this measure even though you were not the prime sponsor to reduce the pension for teachers. Uh, you attempted to pass another version of that bill once the Supreme Court, the Kentucky Supreme Court that is, voided what’s been called the sewer bill. Would you push again for more reforms to the public pension system particularly as it comes to KTRS?
Robby Mills: Yeah. Well let’s put some history behind that. When we came into office in 2016, the pensions were a mess. The worst in the nation. They were a mess from Democrat control, underfunding, mismanaging those pension funds. So, we had a, had a mess in front of us. Now, uh, Senate Bill 151 was deemed, uh, unconstitutional and we went back to work and we solved it. We made pension, we made smart pension changes, changes, and what, what’s happening now? Record funding, record unfunded, uh, uh, levels where the teachers’ pension is at about 60 percent funded. We’re having regularly monthly meetings to talk about our pensions. Daniel Cameron and I are committed to funding the pensions and continuing to stay disciplined, like the legislature has done, to get our pensions back in order. I have a letter right here that actually comes to us every year for the last couple of years from KTRS saying thank you from the retired teachers, I’m sorry, saying thank you for funding our pensions. So, ultimately teachers’ pensions are being taken care of and being funded and no current teachers had benefits in their contract changed. The changes were made to new teachers coming in.
Jacqueline Coleman: This is what I know: I’m a teacher. Uh, my husband is a teacher, and as bad as the sewer bill was, the dishonest way that it, that they tried to sneak it into law was probably worse. And what, what folks need to understand is teachers don’t have access to Social Security. Literally the only thing we have as our safety net is our, is our pensions. And let me say this: We made every payment in full and on time over the course of our careers. So, to try to sneak and hide the, the fact that you want to take that away from people, again, who don’t have anything else to depend on is one of the most dishonest things I think I have ever seen in, in Kentucky state government.
Robby Mills: Neither of the pension bills that she’s talking about changed the inviolable contract for a teacher, Renee.
Renee Shaw: So, let’s talk about --
Jacqueline Coleman: That’s because, that’s because Governor Beshear as attorney general went to the Supreme Court and got a 7-0 decision that it was unconstitutional. That’s the only thing that stopped it.
Robby Mills: No, no, I’m talking about Senate Bill 151 did not change their contract at all. Only new teachers.
Renee Shaw: So, let’s talk about school choice because this has been alluded to in this conversation and others that we’ve had during the course of the campaign. Earlier this year, a House committee had acted on a school choice bill that would let Kentucky voters decide in 2024 on a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to provide funding for public schools. It did not advance. Are you for or against putting that on the ballot for Kentucky voters?
Robby Mills: Renee, the, uh, you know, the Cameron-Mills ticket, we have talked about public education. The whole campaign we’ve talked about public education. The Cameron Catch-Up Plan is about helping public school teachers get a raise. It’s about bringing public school teachers, helping them get discipline back in their classroom, and take away the bureaucracy that, that they have deal with paperwork. It has to do with giving public school students the tutoring that they need to catch up. Now, they’re using this voucher as a red herring. If I had test scores like they have in the last four years and they called themselves and education administration, I’d be looking for a red herring too. We’ve not talked about vouchers in this campaign at all, but I think we can actually offer opportunity and choices in education as well as take care of public education.
Renee Shaw: So, the governor can’t veto a constitutional amendment, that’s not how that works. But do you support that going on the ballot in 2024?
Robby Mills: My understanding is that it’s going to be talked about. Uh, I haven’t seen the bill. I’d like to read the bill first. It’s a very complicated issue because we have all kinds of things: Education opportunity accounts, vouchers, charters, open borders, there’s all kinds of choice legislation --
Renee Shaw: Educational opportunity accounts, of course, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck that down a year ago.
Robby Mills: -- That’s, that’s exactly right. But my point is that I would like to see the bill before I talk about, you know.
Renee Shaw: Do you on a general principle support school choice options?
Robby Mills: I believe that it’s important to offer our kids the best choice that they can have for their education, whether it’s vouchers or open borders, which we have now. I think it’s important. Kids get trapped in schools that they can’t learn in, and they need to have the opportunity to move around and find the education that’s best for them.
Renee Shaw: We know that you and your, the governor are pro-public education, but should the voters have a choice in deciding about if dollars that are their taxpaying dollars should go to support private schools?
Jacqueline Coleman: Here’s what voters deserve: Voters deserve to make, to know that the schools in their communities are the best they can possibly be. So, the way that you do that is you put students first. You support our teachers, and you make sure schools have what they need to do what we need them to do. That has not been the case for a very long time in Kentucky, and our voters deserve to know that when, when they send their kids to school, it shouldn’t matter the zip code. It shouldn’t have to be that they have to move around. It should be that every school is the best it can be, otherwise your zip code determines your opportunity. And I can answer your question very, very simply: I don’t agree with a charter school amendment being, being on the ballot. I don’t, I don’t support charter schools, I don’t support school voucher schemes because, again, your’ taking public tax dollars and you’re sending them to unaccountable private schools. That is not just a bad decision for our schools that would decimate, by the way, rural communities, it is a bad deal for our taxpayers to not know how their taxes are being spent.
Renee Shaw: When it comes to higher education, which we have not talked about, what would be the Cameron-Mills Administration plan for helping to bolster, uh, and appreciate, have a greater value for higher education? And what should higher education look like in Kentucky?
Robby Mills: Yeah, I think there, what you said there last is very important. I think higher education is changing. Not as many people are going to higher ed, they’re going into trades and things of that nature. We need to make sure that we have a robust higher education plan or menu in the state of Kentucky that meets the kids’ and children and adults’ needs for higher education. I think that, I think that’s number one in looking at higher ed. I also think that we need to focus, once again I said this earlier, we need to focus on K through 12 and do it, do it well, uh, as a part of a menu that we are offering.
Renee Shaw: Same question to you, Miss Coleman.
Jacqueline Coleman: I’m still not over the K-12 funding and doing it well from somebody who’s failed to do it every year he’s been in office. Uh, when it comes to higher education, that is, that is our, our kids’ opportunity and gateway to a career. It can look different for every kid and it should, right. So, whether it’s a postsecondary certification, a two-year degree, an apprenticeship, a four-year degree, it can take on a lot of different shapes. Our job is not to tell these kids, uh, and the future of Kentucky what’s best for them. Our job is to make sure that every door is open for them so that they can find their way. We are committed to that and the governor has always said we need more of everything. Uh, and so under, it’s also really important to point out that under Governor Beshear’s leadership, the investment in higher education went up and actually increased for the first time in a very long time.
Renee Shaw: So, when you look at the record surplus that Kentucky has and if you count it all up, I mean cash on hand it’s like $3.7 billion, right? What would a Cameron-Mills Administration do with that money?
Robby Mills: Well, I think, uh, we would do what we, like the Cameron Catch-Up Plan. We would look for targeted places to invest one-time moneys that would get the biggest boom out of our investment. And I think, uh, uh, the legislature is looking at those. We will be coming forward with some plans like the Cameron Catch-Up Plan and our public safety plan that are important.
Renee Shaw: So, when you say the Cameron Catch-Up Plan, I think you said earlier it was $90 million --
Robby Mills: 90 to 100 million.
Renee Shaw: -- How much, or $100 million, we’ll round up to the nearest, uh, how much would the public safety plan cost?
Robby Mills: Well, there’s, there’s all kinds of uh, uh, there’s 12 points in that but the biggest issue is giving retention bonuses and, uh, recruitment bonuses to police officers and public safety officials. Uh, we believe that we need to bolster and talk up policing and public safety in Kentucky. That’s a big part of the 12-point safety plan. I do not have a exact dollar for all 12 points, but we are going to be putting maximum effort into making Kentucky safe. Andy Beshear has been soft on crime. We all know he let out 1,700, uh, criminals early, and a lot of them have recommitted in Kentucky. So, Kentucky is not as safe as it was four years ago. We want to bring back public safety. We want to invest one-time dollars with local agencies and police agencies that would bring back the biggest return on our, our investment.
Renee Shaw: Miss Coleman.
Jacqueline Coleman: So, turnabout’s fair play here and they’ve touted this, this plan, this 12-point plan that they have no idea how much the price tag is for that. Uh, let me go back because that was a pivot away from a topic he doesn’t talk about, which is education. One of the other things that we’ve done to make sure to build the workforce is to invest $240 million in CTE programs across Kentucky. Uh, we’ve, we’ve partnered, let me give you an example of like a specific field. So, we have a nursing shortage in Kentucky, so we have worked directly with schools, nursing schools, and employers to find matches and to help build that pipeline. We also joined, uh, the Council for Post, sorry, Council for Postsecondary Education on, uh, the health care collaborative to make sure that we’re boosting the number of nurses in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. So, working with education and helping to create that connection with employers and fill those workforce needs are truly it, that’s truly the best way to make sure that not only are we investing in education, building the workforce, but we’re making sure that we’re doing it in the right way and we’re helping businesses with what they need.
Renee Shaw: So, answer, if you will, uh, Senator Mills’ comment about the early release of prisoners during COVID, 1,600 or so.
Jacqueline Coleman: So, we have to think about where we were. We were in the middle of a global, well actually we were at the beginning of the global health pandemic. We didn’t have enough PPE, we didn’t have vaccines, and we were dealing with an airborne virus. So Governor shear, Governor Beshear commuted the sentences of, uh, folks who were incarcerated who were days away from being released. And so, uh, he did that because the folks in our corrections, uh, work who go into those places every single day deserve to be safe. They deserve to be able to home to their families and not worry that they’re going to take home a deadly virus to them, and that was the reason that he did what he did.
Renee Shaw: Were those violent offenders?
Jacqueline Coleman: Uh, no. They were non-violent.
Robby Mills: I believe, I believe they, some of them were violent offenders. And then the thing is that they were let out and they did, they did have violent offenses the next time they recommitted. And let me say this --
Renee Shaw: But they would have, but those offenses were done even past the point that they would have been released early.
Jacqueline Coleman: Yes.
Robby Mills: I, I, I don’t, I don’t believe that’s true, but let me tell you this --
Jacqueline Coleman: Yes, it’s true.
Robby Mills: -- you know, Daniel Cameron and I will not let people out of jail. We don’t give out get-out-of-jail-free cards.
Renee Shaw: So, some questions from and about state worker issues, and some of these are carryovers from the previous week, and then some of them have come back again tonight. Uh, many retired workers have this question: Retirees in Kentucky Public Pensions Authority have not received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2011. What’s your position on seeking an increase in the 2024 budget?
Robby Mills: Right. Uh, well, I serve on the Public Pension Oversight Board and that question is asked monthly, and, you know, yearly we look at that. And I think we’ll look at it again. Uh, you know, there are cost of living increases that are given to, to retired teachers that have cost of living. But the other pension funds do not have a built-in cost of living. I, I think it is important to look at that even more so right now, but once again I want to go back to disciplined budgeting. And you made, made a point that we do have a healthy Rainy Day Fund and that may be something that we should and can look at.
Renee Shaw: Miss Coleman.
Jacqueline Coleman: Yeah, so, you know, when, when folks enter the field of public service, uh, whether it’s a state employee, uh, first responder, an educator, you know, those are, those are, those are careers where we know that they are getting paid less than they, than they would for an equal position in, in the private sector. And the benefit for them in, in sacrificing for a life of service is obviously to make sure that they have a good strong pension. As years go on, absolutely, folks who, who commit their lives to public service do deserve a cost-of-living increase.
Renee Shaw: And that would be something that we would expect to see in a budget recommendation, uh, should you be reelected. A 20-year state employee has this question: Newer employees with perhaps even lower educational attainment are starting out at salaries that’s taken many people years to achieve. Considering the record budget surpluses, will your administration address those pay disparities?
Jacqueline Coleman: Our, I can tell you that our administration is working on that right now. I know our Personnel Cabinet is leading this charge. They’re, uh, looking at all of the differences in pay and they’re working to make sure that it’s stair-stepped and that things are equal the way that they should be. So, this work has been going on, it will continue, and that’s something that we’re committed to doing.
Renee Shaw: As I recall, and my memory might be faulty, this was a request of the Personnel Cabinet some while ago, even before we even got to the last budget of the last session in 2023. Why hasn’t that report been made available, uh, yet?
Jacqueline Coleman: Well, there are an enormous amount of state employees, and so as they work through this, you have different levels. You have different titles, you have different branches, all of those things are, are very complex. And so, I trust our Personnel Cabinet is working through this. I know they’re working every day to make sure that we have a pay scale that is fair, and I, I trust them that when they’re ready to release that report and that work is done it will be released.
Renee Shaw: And that would be happening before the end of this year to prepare for the 2024 budget session?
Jacqueline Coleman: It should be, I don’t have a timeline on that but it should be.
Robby Mills: Renee, let me make a point here. You know, uh, governments work on pay plans and when you make, uh, when you make political promises like a 11 percent pay increase, or you promise somebody else a pay increase, that blows up pay plans, and that’s what causes this compression in the pay plans. And you’ve got to be careful. The governor here has promised this 11 percent pay increase, it’s going to blow up that pay plan. We’ve got to make sure that we look at pay plans and pay for, uh, state employees in a universal way, and I think it’s important, you know, with inflation as high as it is, we’ve got to keep wages at a reasonable level, but at a level where we’re competitive. And I think, we need, we need to look at that in the next several years and make sure that we are paying our people well.
Jacqueline Coleman: And let me say that, that, that’s case and our opponents need to make sure that they’re looking at their own plan because all they did was propose a raise for new teachers, and, and the exact challenge that he’s talking about right here is something that they would have created in education. And let me talk about that 11 percent raise for a second: The governor proposed raises and, and they, we succeeded. worked with the legislature, got it through, it was a raise of, of 14 percent for state employees, social workers got a raise, law enforcement got a raise. The only group that got taken out of that raise was teachers, and it was taken out by the General Assembly who refuses to admit that our teachers are worthy of a raise and to be able to make sure to make a commitment that they’re going to see that happen. So, we surveyed across the districts. There was about an average of a 3 percent raise for teachers, uh, across Kentucky. Now, that means, some might have gotten more. Some got nothing, and so that 11 percent raise is intended to bring teachers back up to the same levels as state employees, as, uh, law enforcement and the social workers because teachers got left out of that plan intentionally by the legislature.
Robby Mills: Renee, let me, let me just say this that this is another empty promise on teacher raises. This makes their third promise that they’re making to teachers that has not been fulfilled at all. Now the --
Jacqueline Coleman: Every single budget we have proposed has had raises for teachers. We have followed through on our promise --
Robby Mills: But they didn’t get it.
Jacqueline Coleman: -- The people who don’t believe teachers are worthy of a raise is the General Assembly.
Renee Shaw: Well, and Mr. Mills’ point is you can make the proposal but it’s up to the Kentucky General Assembly to endorse it and they did not at those levels.
Robby Mills: Renee, you have to have a relationship with the legislature to get your proposed raises through the General Assembly. We can do that. They’ve proven not to be able to do it.
Jacqueline Coleman: How did law enforcement, state employees, and social workers make it through then and the only group that didn’t make it through was teachers. It’s the same relationship.
Renee Shaw: Mr. Mills?
Jacqueline Coleman: You’re picking winners and losers is exactly what you’re doing.
Robby Mills: The increase, the increase in SEEK funding was meant to give to give teachers raises and I believe teachers received a 2 to 5 percent raise across the state. That’s one of the reasons that we gave the SEEK funding increases.
Renee Shaw: So, a final question from a viewer, and I think we might be out of time after this, from Diana Sisk, the time does fly, doesn’t it? Uh, ask Miss Coleman if businesses are choosing Kentucky because Kentucky is a right-to-work state, it doesn’t have the same regulatory atmosphere as the blue states.
Jacqueline Coleman: I think businesses are choosing Kentucky because we have a governor who sits down with them, who negotiates, and who leads and shows that this is a promising place, that our people are good. A lot of these businesses that we talk to, tuned in after the flooding in eastern Kentucky, the tornadoes in western Kentucky and they saw what kind of people are here, they saw Governor Beshear’s leadership. They want to be a part of Team Kentucky.
Robby Mills: Business recruitment is long term, is a four or five-year view for a business. People, businesses and, and corporations are looking to Kentucky because of right to work and prevailing wage changes that we made, and unemployment changes that we, that we made. We have improved 12 positions in competitiveness on tax from the Tax Foundation, Kentucky has. That’s why those, mostly why those corporations are looking at Kentucky. We are more competitive because of the work that the legislature has done with, in reducing the income tax. We are committed to reducing our income tax to zero. That will get more people, even more people looking at Kentucky.
Renee Shaw: And very quickly, but following the rules that the Kentucky General Assembly self-imposed, correct, or would you accelerate that?
Robby Mills: Yes, yes. We, we have, I’m going to go back to our relationship with the legislature --
Renee Shaw: Just real quickly, yes or no?
Robby Mills: -- and, and, we’re, we’re going to work on that.
Renee Shaw: Yeah, ok, alright. Well, thank you both for being here. Good discussion, we appreciate you. And that ends our candidate conversation series. You can go back and watch what you missed or see it again online at k-e-t dot o-r-g slash k-y tonight. Join us next Monday on Kentucky Tonight, the night before the election, as some veteran Kentucky political observers preview the races. And we continue to follow all campaign developments each weeknight at 6:30 Eastern, 5:30 Central on Kentucky Edition. Thank you so much for watching, I’m Renee Shaw, and I will see you real soon. Take good care.