FRANKFORT – Gov. Matt Bevin held a rare news conference last Friday to tout the best year on record for business investment in Kentucky, but he ended up using it to lambast the press and union groups challenging recently passed right-to-work legislation.
On the day after the state AFL-CIO and Teamsters Local 89 filed suit claiming the right-to-work law violates the Kentucky Constitution, Bevin and others claimed the law is a key factor in a record $5.8 billion investment by new and expanding industries in Kentucky.
Bevin said those investments will create a 9,500 net, new jobs in the state and the governor said there’s more to come.
“This is going to be a year that shatters anything that has preceded it,” said Bevin, speaking on the sun-drenched front lawn of the state capitol.
Bevin said $3.8 billion of the total was in the form of new, first-time investments in Kentucky with the remaining $2 billion in the form of expansions and new jobs by existing industries.
“We are delighted by the fact that here, not even yet to the end of May, we are already in excess of $5.8 billion in economic development investment,” said Bevin. “The net result is a sense of enthusiasm within the business community like never before about Kentucky. The world truly is watching the Commonwealth, and we’re just getting warmed up.”
He even said he’s working on a new project which involves the White House and might result in a visit by President Donald Trump but offered no specifics.
Bevin and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, attributed the surge in investment to “pro-business” legislation passed by the Republican legislature and specifically right-to-work legislation barring compulsory union dues.
But they suggested the suit filed Thursday by the labor groups would hamper economic development.
“It’s happening because our legislature passed pro-business legislation — right-to-work legislation,” Bevin said. “It is literally because of that that we are competing for industries that we would never have gotten.”
He mentioned Braidy Industries which plans to build a $1.3 billion aluminum rolling mill in Greenup County with promises of 550 jobs with average annual salaries of $70,000.
Braidy CEO Craig Bouchard said he only considered Kentucky after it passed the right-to-work law. Kentucky also provided $10 million in tax incentives and an additional $15 million direct investment in the company to lure Bouchard to Kentucky.
Bevin then pivoted to the labor groups’ suit.
“I say shame on the AFL-CIO for bringing this suit under the false canard that they’re going to try to help working-class people,” said Bevin. “They will hurt working-class people.”
Stivers went further, hinting the suit might cause investors like Brouchard to have second thoughts.
“Be careful about filing lawsuits that may stymie progress and the energy we have going here,” Stivers said. “The only thing that’s going to do is people like Braidy Industries who are coming to this state, who may start second-guessing or something of that nature.”
The union groups claim the law violates Kentucky’s constitutional provisions on equal treatment of classes and illegal takings. They also claim the law is designed to weaken unions and attract low-wage employers to the state.
But unions weren’t the only people who have gotten under the governor’s skin.
He again chastised the press for reporting on a real estate deal for a home in Anchorage where he and his family are living, a home previously owned by Neil Ramsey, a donor to Bevin’s campaigns and a Bevin appointee to the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees.
He singled out The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader as well for covering an ethics complaint filed by Common Cause and its president, Richard Beliles, over the real estate transaction, calling those reports “an inside hack job.”
Bevin said media have “breathlessly reported on the value of this home,” and asked if any of the reporters are “real estate experts.”
“Do you truly have a clue about what you’re talking about?” Bevin asked. He then said the home is “arguably not even worth what was paid for it.”
But he didn’t explain the legal ownership. The Courier-Journal reported that Ramsey formed a limited liability corporation which then sold the property to another LLC.
He also accused the press of damaging the reputations of “good people” like Ramsey “who is doing nothing but serving the people of Kentucky.”