Kentucky economic agenda: 31 actions for a thriving Commonwealth


Editor’s note: I recently attended the annual conference put on by the folks at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy (KCEP). These people do amazing work, and if our leaders in Frankfort would listen to even HALF of their policy proposals, we would all be much better off.

Normally, they end the conference with a “here are some troublesome things to watch for in the coming session and/or year.” At this year’s conference, though, they concluded quite differently, closing out with an inspiring vision of the Kentucky that COULD be: a Kentucky that is thriving.

I was so impressed by the talk that I asked if I could share it, and Anna Baumann, KCEP’s director of communications and the presenter, agreed to send it to me. So, here is her closing presentation, adapted somewhat for the printed rather than spoken word.

If you want to know what solid, progressive economic policies look like, read on.

An Economic Agenda
for a
Thriving Commonwealth

presented by Anna Bauman, KCEP communication director

Before we conclude today’s conference, we want to lift up the vision of a future Kentucky, one where together we’ve made significant progress removing barriers on all of the fronts we’ve been discussing. A Kentucky where, no matter who you are, your skin color, zip code, or parent’s level of education, we can all experience economic security and a high quality of life, and a bright future for the next generation.

That requires looking past what’s possible on any one front in 2019. It requires that we work together to shift the dominant thinking about what will transform our state from gutting public investments, labor standards, and community supports, to policies that set the stage for shared prosperity. And it requires a targeted approach to removing barriers to racial and economic equity.

Last summer KCEP folks brought together our best research and boldest ideas from across a set of essential strategies for economic prosperity and put them into “An Economic Agenda for a Thriving Commonwealth.”

I won’t go through every one of the 30 plus policy ideas in our agenda (PDF), but I will share just a few in order to paint a picture of a Kentucky we don’t often imagine.

Improve job quality and economic security

A thriving Kentucky is a state where paychecks reflect the contributions Kentuckians make through work every day, and work supports rather than detracts from people’s ability to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Where businesses benefit from higher labor standards through increased productivity, reduced turnover, and stronger consumer spending.

Our agenda steps:

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • Get rid of the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers
  • Put more money in the pockets of low-wage workers with a state-level earned income tax credit
  • Enact paid sick and family leave
  • Enact fair scheduling laws
  • Combat race and gender pay gaps
  • Prevent employers from asking applicants about their pay history, so they can’t use that information to base pay on past discrimination
  • Enact felony expungement laws so people who have done their time for past mistakes can get a second chance at employment and economic security

Strengthen education for all Kentuckians

A thriving Kentucky is also where each and every one of us has access to a great start in our childcare institutions and public schools and can afford to pursue higher education.

Our agenda steps

  • Make childcare more affordable by increasing provider reimbursements, and by increasing the eligibility threshold so more parents qualify for assistance
  • Put more resources into our children by funding universal full-day kindergarten, and universal pre-kindergarten for families up to 200% of the poverty level.
  • Put funding back into our K-12 schools, starting with a down-payment of an additional $400 million a year, to lower class sizes and increase support staff.
  • Put back funding for instructional materials and professional development.
  • Ensure schools at every level are equipped to remove barriers to success such as race, immigration status, income, disability and more.
  • Provide two years of tuition-free college at community college rates.

Build resilient, healthy communities

What we can do with our education matters, and so does whether we are healthy and safe. Kentuckians need affordable health care and secure housing. We need supports that help us live well with disabilities, and we need protection from predatory lending and destructive criminal justice policies. Through these policies and more, we can build Kentucky a place where there are solid pathways out of poverty and where we alleviate the root causes of crime and addiction.

Our agenda steps

  • Remove barriers to participation in Medicaid
  • Introduce a state Medicaid buy-in option and create a reinsurance program
  • Cut down wait list time for seniors and people with disabilities to move into community-based living programs
  • Put new resources into local initiatives that keep people out of nursing homes
  • Increase funding for Community Mental Health Centers
  • Increase funding for evidence-based residential and outpatient drug treatment programs, and for needle exchanges.
  • Get rid of last year’s gang bill.
  • Make it safe and legal for immigrants without papers to get to work and school every day by allowing them to apply for and receive drivers’ licenses.

Equip Kentucky for prosperity in the modern economy

Kentucky will also become more prosperous when we take care of our infrastructure, when we build upon and steward the assets that support economic activity and increase the quality of life for all Kentuckians.

Our agenda steps

  • Make sure that households and businesses across the Commonwealth have access to high-speed internet service.
  • Improve our roads and bridges through a public-works program that will also put more people to work.
  • Upgrade our water systems to ensure that every Kentuckian has clean water to drink.
  • Accelerate our transition to clean, renewable energy by requiring utilities to obtain a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources within 15 years.

Clean up the tax code to invest in our Commonwealth

Some of the policies I’ve mentioned and that we’ve talked about today will bring about savings to the Commonwealth, and others will require skin in the game from employers.

And some will require new revenue. For these, we attended to both sides of the ledger and offer revenue ideas that would support the investments we recommend.

Our agenda items

  • Undo the tax break for the wealthy that was passed last year, and return to a graduated income tax structure.
  • Trim corporate tax breaks and bring them under regular scrutiny.
  • Enact a common-sense funding schedule for our pension system.
  • Unfreeze the hospital provider tax.
  • Modernize the funding sources for the road fund.

In conclusion

Rest assured that these ideas are practical, feasible and evidence-based. And though I doubt anyone thinks it will be easy to check off these items—especially not in the short term—it is time to be bold.