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Bevin Talks Taxes, Transportation And That Tweet During Newport Visit

Tana Weingartner
Ky. Gov. Matt Bevin speaks during a community forum in Newport.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin visited Northern Kentucky Wednesday to cut the ribbon on a new medical studies building at Northern Kentucky University and answer questions at a community forum in Newport.

The forum was billed as an opportunity to discuss economic development and "other key initiatives." He's been touring the state hosting the meetings in a bid to boost his public approval rating, which sits at about 30 percent.

Questions ranged from taxes and transportation to the pension system and help dealing with various state bureaucracies.

The tone did have the sound of campaign stumping, with the governor saying multiple times that his administration has done more for "X" (education, Medicaid, restoring voting rights, jobs, etc.) than any previous administration. In August, Bevin announced he would seek re-election in 2019.

For example, when asked about alternative solutions for the Brent Spence Bridge, Bevin said his administration is the first to look at all possible solutions at the same time. There remains no "top of list" solution for the aging bridge, he said, adding Ohio must meet Kentucky.

To that end, he met last week with Ohio legislators, including gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine, who Bevin says needs to be elected in order to move the project forward.

"Some of you may know people in Ohio; tell them to vote," Bevin said. "It's going to make a big difference as to what happens with projects like this depending on who is elected across the way. Mike (DeWine) is a guy who is committed to this, understands it, and I look forward to hopefully working with him, but ... no matter who it is, we've got to have a partner across the way."

A teacher who said she left Kentucky for better pension and salary protections in a neighboring state wanted to know why teachers should stay in Kentucky. Bevin pointed to the cost of living in the state.

He also lauded his pension plan - which many teachers vehemently protested earlier this year - saying previous administrations had done nothing. "I'm the only governor in your lifetime," he said to the woman, "or in the lifetimes of anyone who's in here who's actually fully funded the pension."

One person asked about the commonwealth's gas tax. Earlier this year, legislators introduced House Bill 609, which would have increased the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon to pay for transportation improvements. The bill stalled, but Bevin says the discussion needs to be revived and something similar is needed.

"It's going to have to come up because where else is the money going to come from?" he asked, noting Kentucky is almost out of toll credits it has been using to leverage federal dollars. "The only option we have under our control [because of the way] government and state laws are set up is through the variable excise tax on fuel. That's it."

Bevin is holding similar community forums around the state.

Bevin On His Twitter Controversy

Speaking with WVXU after the forum, Bevin dismissed an ethics complaint against him. The Kentucky Democratic Party argues a tweet Bevin wrote from his official account during a rally that supported embattled Congressman Andy Barr's reelection campaign constitutes an inappropriate use of taxpayer resources.

"Typical. It's campaign season," Bevin told WVXU. "This is what they do. I think it's nonsense, that's my response."

Bevin attended the rally Saturday with President Donald Trump campaigning for Barr. He tweeted:

"Here at @eku with a packed house of men, women and children who love our @POTUS, @realDonaldTrump and are supporting @RepAndyBarr on November 6….#WeAreKY"

Democrats complained the tweet, since deleted, violates a law that prohibits officials from using "state time, equipment, personnel, facilities, or other state resources for political campaign purposes."