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Jobs, the economy, and healthcare were just a few of the topics talked about at a roundtable discussion with U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie during his visit to Lebanon Tuesday of last week. But, technical education and its need for additional funding dominated the discussion.
Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund voiced his frustrations to Guthrie about the state's priorities and the lack of support technical education receives.
"Without technical education our economy as it is today can't survive," he said. "And it seems like in this state we can spend $238 million on a basketball arena in Louisville and $276 million on the equestrian games in Lexington and we try to get $50 for technical education and they laugh at us."
The only funds available for technical education are on the federal level and those funds have too many strings attached, according to lobbyist Karen Thomas-Lentz.
"All of that money is tied to low-income and at-risk... and that's not what all the population out there is," she said. "Are there any opportunities to make some changes where it can be used for workforce development and it's not tied strictly to the unemployed, underemployed or the low-income?"
Guthrie said he was working on a bill to address just that.
"That's what we're trying to find out," he said. "How can we make it better for people?"
Thomas-Lentz said, as it stands right now, there are too many obstacles that stand in the way of acquiring any federal funds for technical education.
"It's been discouraging that there is a pot of federal money that's available for workforce training and workforce development but you can't get it because of the strings that are attached," she said.
According to State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, the state's technical education system isn't working.
"Our technical education system in Kentucky... it is broken," he said.
Higdon said he's written a bill regarding technical education and one change he would like to see occur is for the state's technical education schools to be governed by a local board instead of the state.
Frankly, Higdon said he's tired of talking about technical education and he's ready to see some action.
"Let's quit talking about it, let's get it done," he said.
Karen King, resource specialist with the Marion County Economic Development Office, said it's also frustrating for local industries because there are workforce investment funds available for them but there are also too many strings attached.
"It's really hard for our existing industries and people who are working to utilize those funds because you have to be unemployed to be eligible," she said.
Guthrie said he's working to "fix" that and make those funds more readily available for existing industries and businesses.
"We don't want people just to find another job, we want them to find a better job," he said.
In regards to the sluggish economy, Guthrie said he believes the recession has been prolonged because of the policies in Washington. And while he initially supported President Obama's stimulus bill because he thought it would be focused on infrastructure, it wasn't, and it has passed on even more debt to our children and grandchildren, he said. The country will go further into debt this year, according to Guthrie.
"The government is borrowing $1.5 trillion this year," he said.
Obama's healthcare bill, which is projected to extend insurance coverage to roughly 32 million additional Americans, is a huge concern for local businesses, Lund told Guthrie.
"It's going to start crippling businesses immediately," he said.
In fact, Lund said locally there are industries that are afraid to make any commitment because they aren't sure how the new healthcare bill will affect them financially.
"We are working with companies that are thinking about expanding but they don't know which way to turn," Lund said.
Guthrie said he was hearing that from other parts of the state, as well.
"It's keeping people on the sidelines," he said.