Members of the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce heard from both candidates for 82nd District Representative and one candidate for Corbin City Commission during their monthly luncheon, which was held Wednesday at The Corbin Center.
82nd Rep. Regina Bunch, her opponent, Bill Conn, and Corbin City Commission candidate Trent Knuckles combined to speak for about 30 minutes in the chamber’s second candidate forum in the last two months.
A forum in Williamsburg last month invited candidates for state representative, Williamsburg City Council, and Williamsburg school board to speak.
Bill Conn, a teacher at Williamsburg Independent School, is the Democratic nominee in the state representative race, and he was the first to speak.
Conn said that a big issue in the district and region is jobs.
“There really have to be better job opportunities here in southern Kentucky. This is really what my whole mission was going into the representative race,” Conn said. “We know the war on coal has been devastating.”
Conn said he still sees an “absolutely phenomenal” amount of potential in southern Kentucky.
“We have to start playing to our strengths, and as a state representative that is exactly what I want to do,” Conn said touting the need to establish an engineering school in the region.
“The wave of the future is either medical or engineering. We know those are the emerging job markets for the next 30 years.”
Conn noted that while he has been on the campaign trail, he has discovered that clean drinking water is still an issue for some in Whitley County.
Conn said that while he was campaigning recently in the eastern end of the county, he ran across a household with about 20-30 residents that had no clean drinking water, and they couldn’t dig a well because there was too much sulfur in the ground water.
“I promised them that no matter what else happens in the election, I am going to just make this problem known,” Conn added.
Bunch agreed with Conn that no one should be without clean drinking water and noted that she is familiar with the water problem Conn referred too.
Bunch said that the state has allocated funding to fix that problem, but part of the delay in Whitley County is having to work with Knox County on the project, and Knox County has other priorities before they get to that area.
Bunch said that she reads every piece of legislation that comes across her desk, tries to do her own research and stands behind every vote she makes, even it if isn’t popular like her vote that opposed raising the minimum wage.
“I strongly, strongly felt by the research that I did that Kentucky was not able to absorb a higher minimum wage than the federal level at that time,” she noted.
Bunch said that she is one of two legislators that filed bills regarding entitlement reform this year.
“I honestly believe we have created a society that entitlement alone is the root of the problems that we are facing,” she said. “I am all for a hand up. Anyone can have times when they are down on their luck but that is just what it should be, a hand up. It is not supposed to be generational or your inheritance.”
Bunch said she thinks this would go a long way towards helping fix the drug epidemic and our economic problems.
“You know what the Bible says about idle hands,” Bunch noted. “We need to teach work ethic and make sure people are getting up and earning a decent living, and inviting their children to watch them make a living.”
Bunch said that she is seeking her fourth term in office, and she might seek a fifth term if Republicans take control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in 95 years during the upcoming election.
“After 95 years, give us (Republicans) a chance,” she said.
Bunch added that if Republicans take control of the house and don’t make things better that the public should vote them out.
Knuckles, who is publisher of the News Journal and president of the chamber, was the only Corbin City Commission candidate, who attended Tuesday’s luncheon.
He noted that Bunch and Conn’s presence at the forum should tell those in attendance something.
“The fact that they are here talking to you, and they have taken the time out of their busy schedules in the middle of the day to come out and tell you what they believe tells you that they care,” Knuckles said.
Knuckles noted that there are a lot of really good things going on in Corbin, and he complimented several city officials for their public service, such as Corbin City Commissioner Ed Tye, one of his opponents, for his efforts to spear headed the Creek Walk several years ago.
He also cited Corbin City Commissioner Suzy Razmus’ efforts and those of others to get Sanders Park built on a previously blighted property, and Mayor Willard McBurney’s work to turn the Engineer Street Bridge from an eyesore into a place where people often walk, and even have their prom pictures taken at.
Despite many good things going on in the community, Knuckles noted that Corbin also has some issues. In particular, Corbin is at a very perilous time economically regarding its budget.
With the passage of packaged alcohol sales in surrounding communities, Knuckles predicted Corbin’s alcohol tax revenue, which totaled about $850,000 last year, would go down by half.
“We are going to have to deal with that. The city has been in the red a few times in the last five or six fiscal years. This is something we are going to have to pay attention too,” he added.
As recently as 2006, Corbin had a nearly $1.5 million budget surplus with less revenue than it has now.
Over the last 10 years, Corbin has increased its spending on average $200,000 per year.
“We can’t keep doing that,” Knuckles said.
Earlier this year, the Corbin City Commission voted to stack an additional 1 percent payroll tax onto people working in the Knox County portion of Corbin, but not an additional 1 percent tax on the net profits of businesses there.
Knuckles noted that it’s a move that he and the Chamber of Commerce opposed.
“I thought that was a bad idea for several reasons. I thought it would make economic development efforts on that side of town difficult,” he said. “Companies don’t look at just their bottom line and their net profits. They also look at the tax burden on their employees. When you have other cities around us that have places where they can locate that are just as good and they have less of a tax burden, where do you think they are going to go? They are going to go there.”
While increasing spending in many departments, Corbin has slashed its budget for the Economic Development Director’s Office in half, which Knuckles said he doesn’t think this bodes well for job recruitment.
Knuckles also touched on the fact that none of his opponents attended Wednesday’s forum.
“There are seven candidates running for city commission and I am the only one here today,” Knuckles added. “I know some of those other guys have good reasons for that, but not all of them have good reasons. I think that should tell you everything you need to know about what they think about you. It really should. That should tell you what they think about you when none of them will come up here and tell you where they stand.”
The sponsor for Wednesday’s chamber luncheon was Eastern Kentucky University’s Corbin campus.