This op-ed ran in the State Journal on December 20, 2018.
Kids aren’t the only ones with wish lists this time of year. As Kentucky heads into the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers, lobbyists and engaged citizens are imagining a stronger commonwealth and drawing up policy agendas to take us there.
My colleagues and I recently looked at the state-level policies needed to build a Kentucky economy where – no matter where you’re from, your economic background, health, race, age or gender – everyone can prosper. The healthier, more educated and financially secure we are as individuals, families and communities, the more prosperous we’ll be as a state.
Our wish list includes:
- Improving job quality and economic security through policies like a higher minimum wage and a state earned income tax credit for low-income working families;
- Strengthening education for all of us from expanded childcare assistance and preschool to two years of tuition-free college;
- Building healthy, resilient communities with more affordable, accessible healthcare, addiction treatment and alternatives to incarceration that rehabilitate rather than lead to recidivism;
- Modernizing our water, electricity, broadband and road systems;
- And cleaning up tax breaks to invest in all these building blocks of a stronger commonwealth.
The evidence is clear: When we put people first, we grow and benefit together. But the policy path we’re on is inadequate to build a bright future that includes us all.
Kentucky’s incarceration rates are climbing, and skyrocketing tuition and student debt price many people out of a higher education and better job opportunities. Many Kentuckians can’t drink the water that comes from their faucets. Job growth has slowed in recent years compared to where we were, to our region and the nation. Low wages, unfair scheduling, and a lack of paid leave in low-quality jobs prevent too many Kentuckians from becoming economically secure.
Recent attacks on the safety net are making it even harder for people in such difficult situations – particularly Kentuckians of color who face deep-seated systemic barriers to economic security and opportunity, and Kentuckians in rural areas who are suffering the consequences of major economic shifts outside their control – to make ends meet and get ahead. In just the last year, the state has put up new barriers to workers’ compensation when people are hurt on the job and to SNAP nutrition assistance, the latter of which have led to more than 10,000 Kentuckians losing help getting food on the table. We can expect many to lose health care as similar new barriers to Medicaid are implemented in the months ahead.
Recent policy choices have deepened hardship across the commonwealth, but we didn’t get here overnight. And it will take a lasting commitment to remove barriers and bring about shared prosperity. But we can take smart steps forward in the 2019 General Assembly to put people and communities first.
For instance, there is a growing consensus around the need to reform our bail system so that people awaiting trial aren’t needlessly incarcerated when they can’t afford bail. The 2018 legislative Tax Expenditure Task Force has recommended bringing greater scrutiny to Kentucky’s plethora of expensive tax breaks. And a policy effort is gaining momentum that would help make sure pregnant workers get the reasonable on-the-job accommodations they need to stay healthy and employed.
Whether it’s wish lists, agendas or resolutions you’re making this time of year, let’s all commit to building a Kentucky economy that works for everyone.