The state budget is Kentucky’s most important expression of its values. Kentucky’s willingness to invest in its schools, health care systems, human services and other essential public structures is critical to future prosperity. However, the state’s tax system produces inadequate revenue because it has too many holes, is outdated and doesn’t ensure that those most able to pay are contributing their fair share. In fact, low- and moderate-income Kentuckians pay more in state and local taxes as a share of their income than do the wealthy. After years of budget cuts and underinvestment, Kentucky needs fair and adequate tax reform in order to begin reinvesting in the foundation of our economy.
Kentuckians need an adequate safety net so that those who fall on hard times can meet their basic needs. Income and work supports are also essential in order to ensure a decent standard of living. All Kentuckians should have access to affordable health care, child care and retirement security. Kentucky also needs policies that support fair working conditions including an adequate minimum wage, as well as policies that help disadvantaged Kentuckians move up the ladder of opportunity like the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Education is critical to creating a skilled workforce, improving quality of life and supporting an informed and active citizenry. Kentucky needs a strong education system from early childhood to K-12 to postsecondary and adult education. The education system should be universally accessible and of the highest quality. It should also be affordable—from preschool and child care costs to tuition at state colleges and universities. And it should provide opportunities for lifelong learning so that Kentuckians can continually improve their skills and employment prospects.
Kentucky ranks near the bottom among states in nearly every indicator of health. Too many Kentuckians have lacked health insurance, although the state is now taking major strides to drive down the number of uninsured through health care reform. To continue making progress, Kentucky needs a health care system that is affordable and accessible; that promotes primary and preventive care and healthy living; that is supported by strong public, community and behavioral health services; that ensures those with chronic and debilitating conditions get care and relief; and that mitigates cost growth by eliminating waste and profiteering in the health care system.
Kentucky has high levels of poverty and joblessness and a comparatively weak economy overall. Times have been particularly hard since the recession hit in 2008, from which the state economy has been slow to recover. Jobs are hard to find, many workers’ wages are not growing and too many Kentuckians are forced to work part-time because not enough full-time work is available. Kentucky needs policies at the state and federal levels that spur faster job growth and promote job quality by ensuring workers are fairly compensated for their contributions.
Kentucky’s approach to strengthening the economy through workforce and economic development should be based on building from within. For too long, the state has relied narrowly on trying to lure companies to locate here by being a cheap place to do business. We must shift to a strategy that does more to support entrepreneurship, advance key sectors and create an economy based on skills, innovation and creativity. Such an approach should pay close attention to job quality including by creating career pathways through which individuals can continually advance toward better job opportunities.