FRANKFORT, Ky. — Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is moving forward with a plan to award $100 million for workforce training projects despite a warning from the top House Democrat that the actions could be illegal.
Bevin wants to borrow $100 million and spend it on programs to help Kentuckians get jobs. The state legislature agreed to borrow the money, and passed a separate law detailing how the money was to be spent. But Bevin vetoed the law governing the program, allowing him to write the rules himself.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo sued, asking a judge to overturn Bevin’s veto because he said it was improperly filed. The case is pending.
Since then, schools and businesses across the state have submitted 114 applications for the money, totaling more than $500 million in requests. Wednesday, a group appointed by Bevin and legislative leaders whittled those proposals down to 91, inviting applicants to submit formal proposals next month. Bevin said he hopes to announce the winners by the end of the year.
“Gov. Bevin illegally vetoed this extremely important legislation, and that act, along with his executive order detailing how the bond is to be spent, threatens the legislature’s intent to help all of Kentucky become Work Ready,” Stumbo said. “This is unfortunate, because the General Assembly and I wanted this program to improve the commonwealth’s workforce and make us more competitive to attract high-paying jobs. The governor’s actions undermine that.”
Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said Stumbo was “putting politics above the good of the Commonwealth.”
“Access to a skilled workforce is the number one issue for employers,” Ditto said. “It is absurd that Stumbo is once again standing in the way of creating jobs all over Kentucky.”
While Kentucky’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in the past 15 years, nearly half of the state’s working-age population does not have a job, ranking the state’s workforce among the lowest in the country. Part of the reason is because Kentucky has a high percentage of people receiving Social Security disability benefits, and an above-average population of adults 65 and older. The bottom line, state officials say, is that Kentucky has lots of jobs, but not enough people with the qualifications to fill them.
While Bevin vetoed the bill governing how the $100 million will be spent, he has mostly followed the process lawmakers approved. One key difference: Lawmakers required that the money be evenly distributed among the state’s six congressional districts. Bevin’s plan does not include that restriction, instead awarding money based on the merits of each proposal.
“That would make it nearly impossible for rural Eastern and Western Kentucky to qualify at a time when the loss in coal jobs makes this program more needed than ever,” Stumbo said.
Groups applying for the money have to pay at least 10 percent of the project’s cost. And applicants cannot use money to hire people or pay for operating expenses. Instead, they can use it to build things, purchase equipment and advertise.
Most of the proposals came from public entities, including colleges, universities and local school districts. Jefferson Community and Technical College requested more than $28 million and the University of Kentucky Research Foundation and College of Nursing requested nearly $25 million. Other proposals came from private businesses, including more than $5 million from Signature Healthcare and more than $3 million from the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky.