The New Dealer: Good Investments

Published 12:45 pm Saturday, January 29, 2022

2022 may be an election year in Kentucky, and across the whole nation, but it will also be the first time since 2018 in which the state government will pass a two-year budget for the Commonwealth, as it usually does.

This procedure was altered two years ago with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, with a one-year budget being passed in 2020 and 2021.
With this legislative session, however, the budget will be passed for 2022 to 2024. I think that we can all agree that—regardless of how complicated the process must be to prepare a two-year budget for an entire state of more than 4.5 million people—the goal of creating that budget should be simple and straightforward: do the most that you can to help the people of Kentucky.

In my view, that was precisely the goal that Governor Andy Beshear had in mind when he proposed his two-year budget—Governors typically introduce their version of the state budget before the Legislature.

Unfortunately, the budget put forward by the General Assembly—a week before the Governor released his budget—is not oriented toward that same goal.

First, it’s worth giving a little context. Despite the continuation of the pandemic, 2021 was a very good year for Kentucky. More than $11 billion in private investment projects were committed to begin in the state—that is an all-time record for the Commonwealth.

Additionally, the state budget reported a surplus of more than $1.1 billion—another record—with the final balance of the state budget coming up to almost $2 billion in total. Put simply, Kentucky’s economy is booming at a level never before seen under any other administration, even in the face of the pandemic.

With such strong economic potential in our state, Governor Beshear has rightly stated that now is the time to invest in the people of Kentucky, so that all of us can benefit from the economic boom that we are experiencing. The budget that the Governor has proposed totally reflects that goal.

Governor Beshear’s budget funds a number of projects that would dramatically improve the lives of people all across our state including: two years of universal pre-K for all four-year old’s in Kentucky, as well as a much-deserved 5% raise for all school personnel—as well as a fifteen-thousand pay increase for Kentucky State Troopers.

Additionally, the Governor’s budget calls for a $75 million for an agricultural technology research center to be constructed, as the text of the budget itself says “in the heart of Eastern Kentucky”, which will, among other things, research new methods of strengthening food supply chains in North America; this will create numerous jobs and attract even more investment to Kentucky.

The Governor’s budget also calls for almost $1 billion in funding to improve bridges, expand access to broadband internet, and also expand access to clean drinking water; moreover, the Governor’s budget fully funds Medicaid in the state (40% of all children in Kentucky depend on Medicaid for healthcare), fully funds state pension systems, and $400,000 for a program to help homeless veterans.

There are numerous other projects funded through the Governor’s budget, related to healthcare, infrastructure, pay increases, and public safety investment.

There is a lot in the Governor’s budget—more than I was able to list here—but all of it is geared towards one purpose: creating a better future for everyone Kentucky, especially our community here in Harlan. Substantial funding for education creates better opportunities for our kids—it’s estimated that funding pre-K as the Governor’s budget calls for would allow for thirty-four thousand kids in our Commonwealth to enroll in pre-K for the first time.

Providing a pay raise for teachers, State Troopers and other public employees will make those crucial jobs more attractive for more folks. Repairing bridges, expanding internet access, and making sure that everyone, rural and urban, has access to clean drinking water, will dramatically improve the lives of everyday Kentuckians, as will funding healthcare services which so many in our state depend on, and I don’t think that anyone would disagree that we should provide for homeless veterans in our state. What all of these measures have in common is that they all serve the same purpose; the purpose that all governments should dedicate themselves to, and a purpose that I believe Governor Beshear is dedicated to: making people’s lives better. That should be the entire job of government.

Unfortunately, the budget proposed by the Majority in the General Assembly falls short of the same goal. Let me be perfectly clear, there certainly are many parts of the budget proposed by the Majority in the legislature which are good—some of which are the same as what the Governor has proposed.

The Assembly’s budget does increase education funding, but to a lesser degree than the Governor’s budget. It does provide funding to expand access to clean drinking water but provides $150 million less than the Governor’s budget. These
are not my biggest issues with the General Assembly’s budget. This budget leaves nearly $2 billion of available funds unspent.

The reason? The General Assembly will apparently seek to spend these funds on reforming the state tax code; specifically, these reforms will most likely involve cutting state income and corporate taxes, while raising the sales tax.

The problem I have is that doing so would mostly benefit the very rich and would benefit big businesses but would very much hurt working people and the poor. Even if working folks are able to keep more of their income through a lower state income tax, how much of that extra income will be eaten up by a higher sales tax?

While that will prove an issue for working people and poor people, the very wealthy will have enough extra income to the point where they likely will not be affected by a higher sales tax. As for a lower corporate tax, we don’t need it. There has already been a historic increase in private investment in Kentucky, and so cutting corporate taxes will likely decrease revenue to the point where important public services will eventually be underfunded.

The question, then, is why would the Majority in the General Assembly save $2 billion, only to spend it on something that won’t really improve the lives of most people living in our state? I think we are owed an answer.

I think that the budget offered by the Majority in the General Assembly fails to capitalize on the economic boom that we are experiencing in Kentucky. We have a chance to make smart investments, not only in our roads, water pipes, and internet servicers, but most importantly, in our people.

Again, let me be clear, there are several parts of the General Assembly budget that make these good investments, but many of them do not fund these important projects to the extent that Governor Beshear’s budget does.

Additionally, the Majority in the General Assembly would rather save $2 billion to spend on tax cuts for the wealthy, instead of fully investing those funds to create a Commonwealth where anyone, from anywhere in Kentucky, has a chance to prosper. Governor Beshear has made it clear that now is the time to make those good investments in the people of Kentucky.

The Majority party in the General Assembly should follow that example, and work with the Governor to do just that.

A native of Harlan County, T.J. Hensley is a student at Georgetown College.