Cameron touts income tax cuts, Medicaid work rules for some able-bodied adults in his economic pitch

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Written by Bruce Schreiner for the Associated Press

Republican Daniel Cameron pledged Wednesday to keep Kentucky on course toward eliminating its individual income tax if he is elected governor, saying his budget proposals would reflect an overarching goal of letting workers “keep more of their own money.”

Cameron, the state’s attorney general, is trying to chip away at Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s stewardship of the state’s economy, a role the governor has consistently made a cornerstone of his case for a second term. The governor has presided over record high economic development and record low unemployment, typically starting his weekly press conferences by touting the state’s latest successes. Republicans say the economic development gains are due to GOP legislative policies.

Cameron tried to neutralize that advantage of incumbency as he outlined his own policy priorities for Kentucky’s economy if he unseats Beshear in the November election.

“When it comes to our economy, Kentuckians deserve economic leadership that reflects their needs, promotes a culture of work and will address soaring inflation through lowering their taxes,” he said.

Cameron reaffirmed his support for requiring some able-bodied adults to work in exchange for health coverage through Medicaid. It has emerged as one of the campaign’s starkest policy differences. Beshear halted an attempt by the state’s previous GOP governor, Matt Bevin, to create a Medicaid work requirement that Beshear says would have stripped coverage from about 100,000 Kentuckians.

Cameron also said he would promote policies that benefit families and vowed to help develop “fatherhood initiatives,” saying there’s “no greater economic advantage than a two-parent household.” He vowed to defend the state’s coal industry, promote rural growth and strengthen workforce programs.

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At the top of his economic priorities was keeping Kentucky on its path toward eliminating individual income taxes. The Republican-led legislature revamped the state’s tax code last year to gradually phase out individual income taxes while extending the state sales tax to more services. The income tax cuts reflect a push by Republicans to shift to a system more reliant on taxing consumption instead of production, an emphasis some economists say hits low-income earners disproportionately hard.

Cameron said Wednesday that it is “important to get our income tax rate down to zero as quickly as we possibly can,” saying it would help attract more people to the state. Cameron pledged to work with lawmakers “to make our tax code simple, fair and competitive so that families and Main Street thrive.”

“My first budget and every one I submit as governor will keep Kentucky on the path to eliminating the income tax,” the GOP nominee said. “We will help Kentuckians keep more of their own money.”

The governor vetoed the bill revamping the tax code, criticizing it for extending the sales tax to more services. Republican lawmakers overrode his veto. As an alternative, Beshear backed an unsuccessful effort last year to temporarily cut the state sales tax rate to take some of the sting out of rising inflation. This year, the governor signed a bill that was another step in phasing out the income tax.

In a speech last week, Beshear touted the state’s unprecedented pace of economic development. During his term, Beshear has announced more than 870 new facilities and expansion projects, resulting in private sector investments of about $27 billion, according to the governor’s office.

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“I have never seen more potential for this state, for all us, for every family and for our kids and our grandkids than I see right now,” Beshear said. “I believe we are in a can’t-miss opportunity, one that we cannot fumble, one where we can leave that great legacy to every generation that comes after us.”

Cameron said the governor’s policies have led to “bloating the welfare state.” One of his first acts as governor would be starting the process of seeking federal permission to impose a Medicaid work rule for some able-bodied adults, Cameron said. He initially raised the issue during the GOP primary.

Cameron’s campaign previously said his proposal would require affected adults to either work, be enrolled at least part-time in college or be involved in job training or community service to stay on Medicaid. It would exclude able-bodied adults who are “truly vulnerable,” including those with children or who are pregnant, it said. The rule would raise workforce participation, Cameron said Wednesday.

“Our social safety net should never become a trap,” he said. “Welfare programs should be temporary. And they should only be there to help those in a difficult time.”

Medicaid is a joint federal and state health care program for poor and disabled people. Advocates have said work requirements would become one more hoop for low-income people to jump through, and many could be denied coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork.

Beshear’s campaign took aim at the proposal again Wednesday. Beshear campaign spokesman Alex Floyd said that while Beshear has been “one of the best governors for economic development in the history of the commonwealth, Cameron is offering tired, failed ideas.”

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