- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Wages tend to be deflated in states with right-to-work laws, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway said Tuesday, as he released his jobs plan to promote Kentucky’s homegrown industries and expand broadband access to areas lacking high-speed Internet service.

Conway vowed to hold the line on taxes and called for phasing out the state’s portion of the inventory tax as a way to lower business costs and spur investment. He promised a “top to bottom” review of state tax incentives and said his plan would boost workforce development.

Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, is competing with Republican businessman Matt Bevin for the governor’s office in the November election. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear is in his second term and can’t serve again because of term limits.

Conway released his jobs plan at the historic Stitzel-Weller distillery in Louisville to emphasize the importance of such homegrown sectors as agriculture, manufacturing, logistics, mining, tourism, horses and bourbon production. He promised a “renewed wave of support” for those industries.

“If you can make it or see it in Kentucky, I want to make certain that your business is growing,” he said.

Bevin responded that Conway had “finally presented something tangible” to Kentucky voters, more than a year after his entry into the governor’s race.

“It is one piece of what he owes the people he wants to lead, but at least it is a start,” Bevin said in a statement.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Conway opposed right-to-work proposals that would allow people who don’t pay union dues to work in union businesses. Right-to-work looms as a contentious issue in the campaign. Bevin supports right-to-work initiatives, and several Kentucky counties have adopted such ordinances, which prompted a lawsuit challenging the right of counties to take such action.

Right-to-work proponents argue that Kentucky is losing jobs to states that have such laws. Opponents argue that right-to-work legislation is aimed at hurting unions and lowering wages.

“States that don’t have right-to-work laws tend to have workers making $1,500 a year more on average than states that do have them,” Conway said Tuesday. “So I’m concerned about wages and job creation.”

Bevin’s plan for economic growth has called for an updated and simplified state tax code to improve Kentucky’s business competitiveness. His plan calls for eliminating the state inheritance tax and lowering individual and corporate tax rates.

“Under my leadership, tax reform will not be based simply on revenue neutrality, but rather, to the extent possible, on reducing tax revenue itself and leaving as much of Kentucky’s wealth in the hands of those who produce it,” Bevin’s campaign website says.

Kentucky’s preliminary jobless rate in May was 5.1 percent, the same as the month before but well below the 6.7 percent statewide rate in May 2014. But unemployment rates remain high in much of eastern Kentucky, where thousands of coal mining jobs have disappeared.

Conway promised Tuesday to be an advocate for coal, and said he would help seek new markets for Kentucky coal.

Conway said he would push to improve Kentucky’s near-bottom ranking nationally for broadband availability as a way to boost rural economies. Swaths of rural Kentucky lack broadband service, a high-speed Internet connection capable of carrying lots of information to many people at once.

To boost workforce development, Conway said his plan would align job-training programs with employers’ needs. He also called for partnerships between schools and businesses.

Conway said he would create a cabinet-level Office of Small Business Advocacy to try to cultivate job growth.

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