Kentucky Needs a Budget that Supports Shared Prosperity in the Commonwealth

Today the Kentucky General Assembly convened for the first in a 5-day special session. The primary purpose of the session is to pass a budget for the Commonwealth. Legislators adjourned the regular session on April 15 without passing a biennial budget for FY 2010-2012. State workers will face layoffs if a budget is not passed by July 1.

Amidst high unemployment, in the worst recession since the Great Depression, budget shortfalls mean cuts to state funded programs when working families need them most. Decisions by local, state and federal leaders during this difficult time will shape the economic development landscape for years to come.

A May 23rd Lexington Herald-Leader Op-ed by MACED Director of Research and Policy Jason Bailey draws on a recent MACED study to push legislators to think carefully about how their choices can impact future prosperity in the Commonwealth.

A U.S. Census Bureau report released last fall had bad news for Kentucky: Only Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico had higher state poverty rates. Over the last decade, the gap between Kentucky's poverty rate and the U.S. rate has grown.

In response, legislative leaders created a Poverty Task Force to explore what Kentucky could do. A December report contained many good ideas ranging from support for early childhood education to broadband access.

Then the legislature began work on a new state budget, and the options focused on how deeply to cut existing services. Proposals to raise new revenue through tax reforms have been largely off the table.

But as a recent Mountain Association for Community Economic Development report suggests, lack of adequate funding in important areas of training and family support is making it harder for low-income people to access good jobs that could improve their standard of living.

Without a skilled work force, Kentucky's businesses and economy also suffer. That, in turn, limits the tax base from which to raise needed revenue. This poverty trap will only tighten through ongoing budget cuts to vital educational programs and services. Our report shows that despite participating in the workforce or actively seeking work, a full one-third of Kentucky's working families were low-income in 2007, using measures that approximate a basic family budget. This share has only increased further during the current recession.

Read more of the Herald-Leader Op-ed:

Find the MACED report, "Investing in Kentucky's Working Families: A Path to Shared Prosperity in the Commonwealth," here.