Lt. Governor talks economy, education

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By Stephen Lega

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson stopped by Marion County Aug. 23, and the economy was on his mind. He was the guest speaker at the Marion County Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Marion County Extension Office.
This was his second trip to Marion County since he was sworn in as lieutenant governor. His first trip was the day after he took office when he came to Wilbert Plastic Services when that company announced an agreement to make parts for the Ford Escape, which is manufactured in Louisville.
Last week, Abramson told the audience that he'd recently met with a group of consultants in New York, and all of them are looking for places to relocate businesses.
"The first thing they said is they looked for an educated, skilled, productive workforce," Abramson said.
According to him, this meant Kentucky has to do its part to improve K-12 education and to encourage students to attend community, technical and four-year colleges.
"We need kids to understand that education doesn't stop after the senior year in high school," Abramson said.
But he also stressed that the workforce should be drug-free. He said he'd spoken with two employers recently in other parts of the state who said they were having trouble finding enough employees who could pass a drug test.
Nevertheless, he said he believes Kentucky has many communities that offer high quality of life for prospective business owners.
"You can say this is a great place to raise a family," he said.
He added that he understands every county judge and mayor wants business in their own communities, but the state will benefit from thinking regionally. It would be better for an industry to locate in a neighboring county rather than outside the state, he said.
He continued to say he is leading a tax reform commission in hopes of presenting a plan that will position Kentucky to succeed as the economy recovers.
He concluded with questions from the audience. Dave Winebrenner said he had concerns about state-funded pensions, Medicaid growth, and the effects of the assault on the coal industry.
With regard to pensions, Abramson said the state is taking steps to get its current obligations under control, and on Medicaid, he said managed care will save the state money. At the same time, he said health care costs will still increase, but at a lower rate than it would without managed care.
On coal, he pointed out that the state recently reached an agreement to sell coal to India, and most of that coal will come from eastern Kentucky.
But Abramson also said it's a reality that natural gas is becoming less expensive to use as an energy source, and that is affecting the demand for coal.
During his talk, Abramson mentioned that the state had cut $1.6 billion from its budget over the last few years. Brad Mattingly asked if the tax commission was looking for ways to replace those funds.
Abramson said they were not trying to replace those lost funds. Instead, they are trying to find a way to pay for the services Kentuckians want.
He also returned to the importance of funding education. While state-funding levels has remained the same for four years, home values have decreased and public school enrollment has increased. The end result has been less funding per pupil statewide.
And that is something Abramson wants to see changed.
"That is unacceptable," he said, later adding, "We got to get these young people up and running."