In the coming weeks and months, Kentuckians will hear from candidates for governor about their vision and ideas for our commonwealth. KCEP’s careful analysis of Kentucky data and the research on state prosperity suggest the way to build thriving communities is to unlock potential in our people.
Currently, though, Kentucky faces barriers to doing so. There aren’t enough jobs in many places, and certainly not enough jobs that pay wages on which folks can live and raise a family. Across our state an addiction crisis, mass incarceration and waning investments in vital public services like education and infrastructure are undermining our health, economic security and ability to innovate. And we can’t move forward together when Kentuckians of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQIA Kentuckians, people with disabilities and those who live in economically distressed rural areas face structural barriers that limit what they get out of our economy and what they can put into it.
For too long, the state has pursued an economic agenda of pushing down labor standards and letting special interests manipulate our tax code for their own gain. We need policies that set a course that will actually work for the people of Kentucky and for our state as a whole.
The research on state growth is clear: real economic development comes from the bottom up and the middle out. When we enact policies that unlock the potential in Kentuckians, we grow an economy that truly works – one of good jobs, strong communities and a higher quality of life.
Our 2018 report, An Economic Agenda for a Thriving Commonwealth, outlined five strategies that get us there:
Improve job quality and economic security. Better job quality helps families make ends meet, allows them to invest in the future and spurs stronger local economies when workers have more dollars in their pockets to spend. Ways to get there include raising the minimum wage, enacting fair scheduling rules, providing access to earned paid leave, making sure folks can get unemployment insurance when they need it and increasing pay equity.
Strengthen education for all Kentuckians. We will become more productive, prosperous and innovative when we work together to provide high-quality lifelong learning opportunities. Kentucky should recommit to our K-12 classrooms after a decade of cuts, restore student supports like afterschool programs, provide expanded access to preschool and childcare, and offer tuition-free community college to every Kentucky student.
Build resilient, healthy communities. Too many Kentucky communities are held back by illness, addiction, incarceration and a lack of investments that would make them healthy and safe. Abandoning proposed new barriers to Medicaid, increasing support for community-based rather than institutional care, expanding access to drug treatment and mental health services, and reducing criminal penalties for low-level crimes are key ways to build a more resilient state.
Equip Kentucky for prosperity in the modern economy. We won’t get far as a state without reliable roads, high-speed broadband, clean drinking water and other public goods that make life and work in Kentucky possible. Policies include expanding public solutions to internet access, investing in our infrastructure and creating utility standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Clean up the tax code to invest in our commonwealth. Kentucky simply needs more revenue, or we will continue to fall behind. A comprehensive plan to generate revenue sustainably begins by requiring those at the top to better chip in. It includes an end to a wide range of special interest giveaways and holes in our tax code. Modernizing road fund revenues and creating more reasonable assumptions about needed contributions to our pension systems will also make smart investments in Kentucky’s prosperity possible.