Lexington Mayor Jim Gray unveiled his plan to stimulate Kentucky’s economy Monday, focusing on investing in infrastructure projects and making small business loans more accessible.
Gray, the Democratic nominee challenging U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in the Nov. 8 election, has throughout the campaign touted his experience running a family-owned construction company, trying to portray himself as a businessman who can help create jobs for Kentucky.
Gray stuck to that message at the United Auto Workers Union Hall, speaking on Labor Day alongside U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, to a small crowd of union members and press.
“I know about creating jobs, I grew up in a family business, where over time we created literally thousands of jobs,” Gray said.
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Gray’s plan centers upon investing in infrastructure and education to create jobs and attract businesses to the state.
In particular, his plan calls for repairing roads and bridges throughout the state and building several new ones, including an expansion of the Hal Rogers Parkway in Southeastern Kentucky.
“We’re living today on the infrastructure of our parents and our grandparents,” Gray said. “America has always built ourselves out of adversity. All the way back to the Great Depression.”
He also talked about increasing broadband access to rural areas of the state to help attract large companies.
“It’s beyond Lexington and Louisville,” Gray said. “The rural parts of the state also need access to this technology, they need access to high speed internet. I’ve seen this firsthand. I’ve seen plants actually locate in small rural Kentucky where broadband today exists.”
There is an ongoing federal initiative to bring broadband access to rural communities and Kentucky is in the process of creating a so-called middle mile network that would increase access and decrease cost of internet in rural communities.
Gray didn’t specify exactly where money would come from to finance federal investments in infrastructure and education, but said he wouldn’t take any option off the table, including a proposal to tax overseas earnings.
A common option is to borrow more money.
“If our company hadn’t been able to borrow money when we were flat on our backs broke we never would have been able to work our way out of insolvency,” Gray said. “So debt is not a bad thing. It has to be understood, it has to be measured and the investment needs to make sense, but debt on its face is not a bad thing.”
Debt is not a bad thing. It has to be understood, it has to be measured and the investment needs to make sense, but debt on its face is not a bad thing.
Jim Gray, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate
Gray’s stance is in stark contrast to Paul, a Bowling Green ophthamologist who has campaigned on eliminating the national debt.
Paul has made several proposals to require a balanced federal budget, none of which have made their way into law.
He also has proposed a plan that creates “economic freedom zones,” which would reduce taxes for areas of high unemployment in hopes of attracting businesses and jobs.
About 25 counties in Eastern Kentucky would qualify for those lower tax rates under Paul’s plan.
“From traveling to every corner of the commonwealth to personally share his Economic Freedom Zone plan with Kentuckians, to leading the fight to keep our hard earned tax dollars here at home rather than sending them overseas to countries who hate America, Dr. Rand Paul has an incredibly strong record of standing for Kentucky jobs and continues to be a leading advocate for repealing the job-killing over-regulation of our coal industry and getting the government out of the way so Kentucky's businesses can grow and succeed,” said Paul’s spokeswoman, Kelsey Cooper, in a written statement.
When asked specifically about what can be done to grow jobs in Eastern Kentucky, Gray stressed the need to diversify the economy in regions hit hard by a rapid decline of the coal industry.
“Cities and regions change,” Gray said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but diversifying your economy is the only real route. The only real way to success over time is a diversified economy. Regrettably, one-industry towns, one-industry regions often struggle for long cycles and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Gray’s plan also stressed the importance of small businesses and increasing accessibility to small business loans.
“My dad started and my mom started a business with a Small Business Administration loan of $25,000,” Gray said. “That’s what started a company that today is worth a billion dollars in annual revenues. And we’re proud of that, but others across our great state need access to capital.”
To do that, Gray said the federal government would need to remove regulations to make it easier for community banks to make loans to aspiring business owners.
Gray also talked about exporting goods from Kentucky. He did not specify whether he supports the federal trade acts currently being debated in Congress, instead saying he would support trade deals that are “good for Kentucky.”
He also said the federal government needs to stand up to China to make sure the country isn’t “cheating” by manipulating its currency to increase exports.
He also repeated his support for increasing the federal minimum wage and the equal pay act, which aims to ensure women and men are paid equally for the same work. He also supports allowing graduates to refinance their student loan debt.