Kentucky legislators are approaching a critical point as they prepare to open the 2014 session of the General Assembly Tuesday.
The 138 men and women from all corners of Kentucky have a unique opportunity to enact dramatic changes for the betterment of this state as they begin their work with the chief priority being to adopt a new, two-year state budget.
They, through that budget, have the power to plan a future of better-educated citizens with potential for good jobs and successful lives that will allow them, their families and the state as a whole to prosper. That future could include sound public schools, good roads, reliable state services and effective aid to the impoverished and disadvantaged.
Or the lawmakers, as they too often have before, could allow this great opportunity to slip away as they settle for incremental gains and showy legislation that offers much flash but little substance.
For the sake of Kentucky, lawmakers must choose the former course.
It will require political courage, often lacking in Frankfort and particularly in a year where all 100 members of the House and half of the 38 Senate members are up for election in November.
It will require an understanding of the state’s complex financial situation that can no longer be dismissed by cheap talk of “tightening our belts.”
And, plainly stated, it will require revenue, much more revenue, to reinvigorate state programs such as public education that have been crippled by repeated cuts.
The crisis Kentucky is facing cannot be overstated. It is sliding backward even as the need to move forward grows more acute.
Kentucky’s public education system is careening toward the pre-Kentucky Education Reform Act levels that caused the state Supreme Court to find the school system unconstitutional, forcing the legislature in 1990 to enact significant reforms and equitable funding. But 23 years later, Kentucky now ranks 39th in funding for education and recently was awarded an “F” for school funding by Education Week.
Vital areas such as public health departments, school nurses, child care assistance and social services for Kentuckians young and aged have been slashed.
State workers haven’t had a raise in four years and Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has warned that up to 2,000 teachers could face layoffs without an increase in state funds.
Gov. Steve Beshear has warned that he is willing to cut other state programs and services, if necessary, to better fund education.
But he also is willing to back an overhaul of the state tax system to provide enough revenue to fund other essential services.
A blueprint is available from the Governor’s 2012 Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform. After 13 such studies in three decades, no more are needed.
All that’s needed is the courage of the General Assembly to act.
— Courier-Journal, Louisville