Candidates running for District 3 State Representative addressed local and state issues in a Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce forum on Thursday.
Democrat Martha Emmons and Republican Randy Bridges fielded questions ranging from the pension system to the opioid crisis. WPSD-TV live-streamed the forum on Facebook. Emmons is a local business owner and Bridges is a realtor.
District 3 covers part of McCracken County, including Paducah. Democratic Rep. Gerald Watkins is retiring from the seat.
Changes To The Pension System
Emmons and Bridges both share the view that teachers and other state workers in Kentucky have a right to their pension but differ on the future of the pension system as a whole. Bridges said systems like Kentucky’s are doomed to fail. He said new state workers haven’t been promised a pension like those who are already in the workforce.
Bridges said, “I think we need to go to a hybrid 401(k) system. My wife’s been a teacher for 27 years and I’ve seen teachers come in and they weren’t satisfied with it -- it’s not what they expected and they need to get out. But they felt like they couldn’t because they were tied to a pension. A 401(k) is going to allow them to move on.”
Emmons said she believes teachers must be represented in negotiations involving changes to the pension system. “I think in order to know how we can change any contracts - because contracts can be changed - but you have to have both sides of the contractual parties at the table,” Emmons said. She said she believes teachers and other state workers already in the system have a right to their pensions.
Keeton Correctional Facility
Emmons said she believes the media can act as a powerful tool when asked how to deal with the issues surrounding Keeton Correctional Facility in Paducah. The privately owned halfway house has seen a large number of escaped inmates over the past several years. City Commissioner Richard Abraham has said more than 160 inmates escaped from the facility since 2013. Emmons said the community needs to be vocal when issues arise at the halfway house.
“I think most Americans would be outraged to know what we’re dealing with in this situation so I think the media is one way that can help us. I think we need to be the wheel that squeaks- we need to constantly need to be at the Governor’s door. This is a privately-run institution even though our taxes are paying for it. We need much more input on how its ran,” Emmons said.
Bridges said he was not “fully educated” on the issues at the halfway house, but said he wants to use “every asset possible” to give closer monitoring to the inmates at the facility while helping them rehabilitate. He also said the public needs to be better informed about what goes on at Keeton.
Higher Ed Funding
In September, some of Murray State University’s Board of Regents agreed in August that the state’s performance funding formula that has the state’s public universities and compete for a portion of state appropriation is “stacked against smaller schools.” Emmons said she believes the formula is “upside down” and was personally appalled when “the way it was structure was released.” She said people should have more of a say in decisions that affect higher education.
”As long as our governor feels free to appoint anyone to boards of regents with no regard to people from the state, people who have actually attended that university, we’re going to see one person with his hand-picked staff making decisions that affects all of us,” she said.
Bridges said that although expenses are raising for colleges, universities can’t keep raising tuition. He said his younger brother, a vice president at a South Carolina college, feels that colleges are over-building facilities and over-emphasizing student recruitment when they should just focus on education.
Bridges said he is proud of Murray State as “one of the top teaching schools in the nation” and that the university is still affordable, especially with in-state KEES money. KEES awards Kentucky students scholarship money based on GPA and ACT scores. Bridges said, if elected, he will work hard and find avenues to keep university costs low.
Bridges said he believes that drug and alcohol addiction is one of the biggest issues facing Kentucky. He praised the Kentucky State Police’s Angel Initiative, which invites anyone battling addiction to come to any KSP post for help finding a treatment center. Bridges said creating such avenues to treat and give people who are struggling with opioid addiction facilities to go to can be addressed by government entities and non-profits. He also said that the state needs to address the issue in younger Kentuckians by investing more money in school systems and education programs to teach students that they can “make a difference” regardless of socioeconomic status.
“If we wait until they’re 18 or 20-years-old and they’re thrown in jail, we’ve already lost that battle,” Bridges said. “There’s a lifetime of fighting addiction.”
Emmons said that people want easy and quick answers to the opioid crisis, but there are none. She said it is going to take not only education, but a difference in the way the court deals with drug and alcohol addiction. She said locking people up is not the answer.
“You can stay in jail for 30 days and you become clean,” Emmons said. “And on the 31st day, do you know what you want? A fix.”
Emmons said the state has to be more committed and work across the spectrum with many different agencies to fight the opioid crisis.
Bridges and Emmons both said he they believe municipalities should be treated equally and have the same ability to decide how revenue is raised. Bridges mentioned two options to generate revenue. The first is a two percent restaurant tax, which he said is tied to “long-term indebtedness.” He said he prefers a local option sales tax that is for a specific purpose over a set amount of time and is up to voters to decide when to enact.
Emmons said she believes that as a local entity, local governments should be in charge as much as possible. She said she didn’t look into exactly how this would be implemented, such as a restaurant tax, but “it should be of the decision of the local government as long as the constitution of the state allows it, and it does.”
Midterms elections are November 6.