On the issues

Helping Kentucky’s Workers & Families

My top priority as Kentucky’s next Senator is to grow our economy and improve the life of middle class Kentuckians. As a job-creating Mayor of Lexington and as a businessman before that, I have always believed in forward-thinking, innovative solutions to the toughest problems. Those solutions worked. Today, Kentucky faces many challenges, but it also has a unique opportunity to put people to work by building a modern infrastructure for the future, leading the nation in clean coal technology, selling Kentucky-made products around the world, and making our state a hub for advanced manufacturing.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned throughout my career as a business owner and as Mayor of Lexington, it is this: you can’t shrink your way to greatness. That’s not how you grow a business, and it’s not how you grow an economy. Unfortunately, too many in Washington are trying to do just that. They think that if we cut ourselves down enough, then eventually we will have nowhere to go but up. We’ve tried it their way for years now, and like most of you, I’m not satisfied with the results. I believe we need new leadership focused on growing Kentucky and investing in our people.

We grew our family construction business from $1 million a year in sales to a company that generated $1.2 billion last year. Gray Construction is now one of the leading builders of advanced manufacturing plants in the country, and a pioneer in the design-build industry. Every day in Kentucky alone, more than 20,000 people walk through the doors of plants built by Gray Construction. Our company has created thousands of good construction jobs, and we’ve done it by building workplaces for the future in American manufacturing.

In 2010, I ran for Mayor of Lexington so I could give back to the city that has given so much to my family and my business. As Mayor, I turned a deficit into a surplus while still thinking ahead about how to solve our greatest challenges. I partnered with Louisville to create the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM), a massive initiative to turn central Kentucky into a hub for advanced manufacturing. Today BEAM is focused on the future – exports and foreign direct investment – so that Kentucky continues to grow long after we’re gone.

I believe it’s  this kind of business sense, experience in local government, and forward-thinking problem solving that’s exactly what we need in Washington and exactly what Kentucky deserves in its next Senator. I’m running for the Senate because I want Kentucky to seize this moment and start solving problems once again.

Some may say we can’t afford to invest. I say we must invest, it’s a proven method. America can do it like we have in Lexington. Examine your costs, cut waste and reduce unnecessary spending, then invest those savings and look to innovative funding solutions like private sector support and Public-Private-Partnerships to help fill the gaps. In doing so we generate more jobs and more revenue to pay down the country’s debt. Any other approach is a fireable offense.

We know our state faces serious challenges, but we also know we have an incredible opportunity to propel Kentucky into the new economy.  Our country’s history is one of building ourselves out of adversity. This year Kentucky has an opportunity to change our course and do just that. After years of job losses, recession, and disappointing politics, it’s time for us to look to the future with confidence and determination to forge a better economy, a better state, and a better country for our children. In the next few pages, you can see my plan to do just that.

 

1.  Build For the Future

Throughout our history, we have embraced opportunities to build our way into prosperity. In the wake of the Great Depression, America looked to the future and seized opportunities at hand. We invested in our infrastructure and put millions of Americans to work in the process. Our grandparents gave us an infrastructure second to none in the world, and their investment set the stage for the most prolonged period of economic growth in modern history.

We must look at the challenges we face as opportunities, the glass half-full, just like they did. America’s infrastructure is crumbling, but that just means there is work to be done. To get the economy across our state moving in the right direction, we must make serious investments in both concrete and steel, paving and asphalt, as well as infrastructure for a modern economy by bringing broadband to every corner of our state. I have seen firsthand how important a modern infrastructure is for companies as they make decisions where to build new plants and facilities. In today’s global economy, if you don’t modernize someone else will, and the jobs will follow. Failing to compete means giving up on jobs that could be brought to Kentucky.

I know Kentuckians, and I know they want to compete.

Kentucky has critical infrastructure needs and here are some signature projects and initiatives that should be put at the top of the priority list:

Brent Spence Bridge: The Brent Spence Bridge has been called the top infrastructure emergency in the United States. That’s not something to take lightly, especially since the bridge moves four percent of U.S. gross national product. The Ohio Department of Transportation estimates that every year we defer maintenance in the bridge, it costs taxpayers $75 million.[1] But above all else, this is now a safety issue. The bridge is already carrying twice the amount of traffic it was designed to support, and we simply cannot sit around and wait for a catastrophe to force us to act.[2]

Building our rural infrastructure: Rural Kentucky may have been knocked down by the significant changes in our nation’s energy sector, but it has been kept down by underinvestment in infrastructure. Specifically, crumbling roads and limited access to high speed internet are both holding rural Kentucky back. Kentucky’s roads received a D grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Not only does this make it harder for businesses to move their products around the state, it hurts everyday families, too.  Crumbling roadways cost Kentuckians an extra $391 a year in car maintenance.[3] That is unacceptable anywhere, but it’s particularly harmful to rural areas and their families who depend on access to good roads to get to school and to work. Signature projects I will promote include the Interstate 69 bridge between Henderson and Evansville, finishing and extending the Mountain Parkway, making the Hal Rogers Parkway a true job creating highway with four uninterrupted lanes from Hazard to Somerset; and the completion of the Interstate 75 southern corridor expansion to improve safety for drivers and access for business. These are job creating projects that are critical to improved opportunity for Kentuckians.

Broadband in rural Kentucky: Just as important as investing in our roads is investing in broadband access for all Kentuckians. Too many Americans don’t have the access they should to high speed internet, particularly in rural and low income communities where 40 percent lack access (nearly four times higher than the national average).[4]  In parts of rural Kentucky that do have broadband we have already seen private sector innovation to retrain and repurpose our workforce, such as Bit Source in Pikeville, which retrains coal workers in computer coding.[5] We should encourage more new economy initiatives like this in rural Kentucky.

A fiscally responsible approach:  We need smarter government, not more government.  As a businessman, I know the importance of balancing your books and living within your means.  That’s why, as your United States Senator, I’ll review the budget line-by-line, make recommendations for smart cuts where waste exists, and work to put those savings into the critical investments that Kentucky needs to compete. Smart investments will help our country grow and improve our economy so that we can more quickly return to times where surpluses were common and debt was lower.

 

2. Build Advanced Manufacturing

Exports and foreign direct investment are a crucial part of Kentucky’s economy. Exports account for almost 14 percent of Kentucky’s GDP, and as we think about how to propel Kentucky’s economy into the future, we can’t neglect the importance of trade for our state. [12] However, for far too long, our trade agreements have meant lost jobs or decreased wages for American workers. That must stop.

Kentucky deserves a Senator who won’t support trade agreements unless they benefit Kentucky workers.  As your Senator, the only trade deals that will earn my support are strong agreements that bring good-paying jobs to Kentucky. We can’t support expanding trade at the cost of the American middle class.  I’ll encourage more investment in our state, and I will always fight for Kentucky workers competing in a global economy.

Pro-Business and Pro-Work: Trade is crucial to Kentucky’s economy and jobs, but that doesn’t mean we should support every trade deal that comes our way. Americans are tired of deals that only benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of us. It’s time we had a Senator who takes a hard look at every trade deal individually to make sure that it works for Kentucky’s businesses and its workers.

Supporting “Made in Kentucky” Exports: Kentucky makes quality products that we can all be proud of, and it helps our businesses grow when they have the opportunity to sell their products around the globe. As your Senator, I will do everything in my power to encourage exports and protect manufacturers, including support for the Export-Import Bank that finances trade for our homegrown businesses at zero cost to the American taxpayer. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), last year’s closure of the Export-Import Bank left thousands of small and medium sized exporters without the financing they need to compete with foreign manufacturers.[13] NAM estimated that in Kentucky, the Export Import Bank supports almost 10,000 jobs and 48 companies in places like Louisville, Hebron, Winchester, Auburn, Calvert City, Newport, and Stanford.[14]

Encouraging Investment in Kentucky: We’ve done enough to encourage American companies to invest in foreign workers. Now it’s time to encourage foreign companies to invest in American workers. As your Senator, I’ll use my business experience to make Kentucky a destination for foreign companies. As Mayor of Lexington, I knew that we had to think globally when considering how to create jobs, attract investment and drive exports. In implementing the BEAM initiative, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and I learned that between our two cities, we have over 100,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing. This highlights the importance of advanced manufacturing to Kentucky’s economy. As your Senator, I’ll work with Select USA and others to bring businesses from around the country and around the globe to our state.[15]

Taking care of our own: Even as we work hard to keep jobs in Kentucky and attract more investment, we must work just as hard to help people who lose their jobs get back on their feet. I’ll work to reverse shameful efforts to cut or eliminate Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). In 2015, the program provided almost $13 million in funding for Kentucky to provide benefits and services such as job training, health coverage, and income support to those whose jobs had been shipped overseas. But that is not enough. [16] This program needs to be expanded to help families undergo difficult transitions in their lives.

Stand up to Chinese cheating: While we must undertake every effort at home to attract investment and build our economy from within, we also must stand up for ourselves on the global stage. As China becomes our number one global competitor, we need to ensure they play by the rules. For years China has been manipulating its currency to boost its exports. This has hurt American workers, particularly manufacturing workers in states like Kentucky. As your Senator, I’ll vote to label China a currency manipulator and take steps forward to put everyone on a level playing field.

 

3. Build Better Jobs

My top priority is to grow the economy and make sure it works for all of us, especially hardworking families in Kentucky who play by the rules. Our economy has changed, and our policies need to change with it. We need to focus on growth, revitalize manufacturing, help small businesses thrive, empower startups to take off, promote innovation, invest in infrastructure and strengthen our workforce.

In my family, having a job wasn’t just a place you had to be every day.  It gave us a sense of purpose and brought more meaning to life. It meant having the ability to achieve the American Dream by your own hard work. Today, too many Americans feel like it’s impossible to get ahead.

Kentucky families aren’t looking for handouts, and I don’t believe in them.  But there are common sense changes to the rules that we can make so that everyone has a fair shot.  That means raising the minimum wage, ensuring equal pay for women, helping small businesses and entrepreneurs succeed, and giving our young people the best education and training so that they’re prepared for the jobs of the future.

Raising the Minimum Wage: I believe that a job is a tool to improve your life and your family through your own hard work. For that to be real, we must pay workers a fair wage. Unfortunately, too many Americans today are stuck in jobs where no matter how hard they work, they won’t be able to make ends meet.  As your United States Senator, I’ll support increasing the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, and eliminate sub-minimum wage pay for tipped workers.  As part of this proposal, I support common sense tax support for our nation’s small businesses, so that our mom and pop stores have the help they need to pay workers a fair wage.

Equal Pay for Equal Work: Women should be paid equally. And I will support legislation to ensure it. In Kentucky, the average woman makes $8,499 less every year than her male counterpart. That adds up to a $339,960 in lost earnings over the course of a 40-year career.[17] For an African American woman, the gap is $14,284 per year, or $571,360 over the course of a 40-year career.[18]

Investing in education for the modern economy: Just as we need to invest in our infrastructure for the sake of our children, we need to invest in education for their sake as well. As the world becomes more connected, our children will face more competition for work than we ever did. Countries all over the world are making major investments in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Kentucky should be on the cutting edge of these investments. Our manufacturing tradition and our world class universities provide us with a unique opportunity to be leaders once again, but we have to fight for it. As your United States Senator, I will support proposals to establish national manufacturing universities that will reshape their engineering programs to fit modern manufacturing needs. [19]

Encourage businesses to invest in their employees: As a businessman, I know the importance of investing in the people who work for you. Today, too few companies understand the value of this or have the right incentives to do so. I believe we need to turn this trend around. One way to encourage this would be to provide tax incentives to employers who allow their employees to share in the company’s successes through employee stock ownership plans. Our family is proud that all employees have ownership in Gray Construction, and as your Senator I will encourage more businesses to do the same and give their people a real chance to grow with the company.[20]

 

4. Build Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

As someone who helped run my family’s business since I was 19 years old, I know how hard it is to start a business in this country and the steps we can take to make that journey easier and more efficient.  Entrepreneurs are the engines of growth behind our economy, and we need to ensure that America continues to be the global center of entrepreneurship that it always has been. There is important work to be done here. Today, Americans are more afraid to take risks in their careers, and fewer people are starting new businesses than before the recession. In fact, more than half of our workers are working at firms that were established before 1980. [21] As your Senator, I plan to turn these trends around with a pro-business agenda for the future.

Boost small business access to capital. Entrepreneurship shouldn’t be limited to those whose parents can give them a startup loan. The beauty of the American Dream is that anyone can make it in this country, regardless of where you come from. Our family business, Gray Construction started in 1960 with a $25,000 Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. I know how important these loans can be and as your Senator I will support the SBA’s loan programs to help new small businesses get off the ground, grow, and succeed. I’ll also be an advocate for community banks, which many small business owners in America turn to first for their capital needs.[22] We need to ensure these banks have the tools they need to cultivate entrepreneurship in communities across our country.[23]

Cutting red tape and easing regulatory burdens.  There are more than 80,000 pages of regulations on the books and dozens of redundant programs scattered throughout the government.  While many promote safety and put common sense limits in place, too many are standing in the way of small businesses. That’s why I’ll go line-by-line and agency-by-agency to reduce inefficiencies and waste in our government. Businesses should know their leaders in Washington are working to rollback outdated regulations that don’t make sense.

Refinancing student loan debt.  I believe college should be the gateway to a better future, but to many Americans today it is only the gateway to a mountain of student loan debt.  In Kentucky, the average college graduate is facing almost $26,000 in student loan debt.[24] That is a staggering burden on those who are just starting out their careers and who already have to cope with a troubled economy. This debt burden is holding our economy back, and keeping our young people from taking risks and pursuing their dreams. One measure I believe should be enacted immediately is Senator Tammy Baldwin’s “In the Red” act. This bill would make two years of free community college a reality, allow students to refinance their loans at affordable rates, and index Pell Grants to inflation so they keep pace with skyrocketing costs.[25]

 

 

Sources:

[1] The Hill, 5/16/16

[2] WLWT, 5/17/16

[3] American Society of Civil Engineers, 2013

[4] FCC, “2016 Broadband Progress Report.”  January 29, 2016. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/broadband-progress-reports/2016-broadband-progress-report

[5] BitSource, accessed 7/15/16

[6] Third Way, 8/5/15

[7] Third Way, 8/5/15

[8] CBO, 12/16/15

[9] Heitkamp, 7/13/16

[10] Manchin, 7/7/15

[11] Brand USA, accessed 7/17

[12] CBER, 2015

[13] NAM, accessed 7/12/16

[14] NAM, 7/14

[15] Select USA, 2016

[16] Department of Labor, 2015

[17] NWLC, 9/15

[18] NWLC, 12/15

[19] US News, 6/26/15

[20] Gray Construction, 3/16/11

[21] Kaufmann Foundation, 7/13/16

[22] ICBA, 6/16; Office of Angus King, 7/30/14

[23] Brookings, 12/21/15

[24] TICAS, accessed 3/17/16

[25] Baldwin, 3/15/16

[DM1]Loan Guarantees: The Recovery Act included $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced fossil projects that has gone unclaimed. There was recently an update on this solicitation put out by DOE: http://www.energy.gov/lpo/services/solicitations/advanced-fossil-energy-projects-solicitation