In a tradition familiar to many, on Thanksgiving I will sit down with loved ones and we will take turns giving thanks for the blessings in our lives. We know who we are by what we hold dear.
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with leaders from diverse groups across Kentucky and learning what they are grateful for. Made up of working families, teachers and students, faith communities, vulnerable Kentuckians and more, they are grateful for things I thought worth sharing. They have given me permission to share them with you.
Representing the interests of our youngest Kentuckians, advocates for early childhood education are grateful for the kids they have the privilege of serving and the state programs that help train early childhood professionals. Kentucky Voice for Early Childhood celebrates the ways we “support children and working families with child care assistance, preschool and home visitation programs.”
On behalf of our students, the Jefferson County Teachers Association is grateful for the “wraparound services in our public schools that help Kentucky’s children thrive and learn.” Retired teachers applaud Kentucky’s strides toward honoring pension commitments to those who dedicate their lives to education.
The Center for Accessible Living praises investments such as the personal care attendant program “that contribute to a better quality of life and allow people with disabilities to live independently in their community,” and mental health advocates applaud progress we’ve made through the Affordable Care Act to provide rehabilitation services to people struggling with addiction.
Others remind us to be grateful “that we have some of the money needed to repair and replace structurally deficient bridges ... and to build and patch Kentucky’s road system;” for our burgeoning awareness that we must address Kentucky’s affordable housing crisis; and for our state investments in the arts, the visionary people who help us imagine a future where more is possible.
We, at the Kentucky Council of Churches, along with many other groups, are thankful for the access to doctors and health professionals that the Medicaid expansion brought hundreds of thousands more Kentuckians. For Kentuckians who struggle, health coverage and other measures that assist our working families are a great blessing.
As we give thanks, however, we must also recognize that what we hold dear is at risk. There are growing concerns about an aggressive agenda described as “tax reform” that really involves cutting state taxes for the wealthy and corporations. That would leave us with less revenue to invest in thriving communities through the kinds of building blocks described above.
A good example is what’s at stake for our public school students: The Kentucky Education Reform Act increased school funding and helped improve educational attainment all across the state, even in our poorest districts. Giving all our kids better educational opportunities is something to be thankful for. But the equity gap has been growing, and tax cuts for those at the top would widen it, leaving children and entire communities further behind.
In a cautionary tale for our lawmakers, upside-down tax changes in Kansas — which have not brought the economic growth promised by architects of the plan — have instead deeply reduced funding for schools, led to increased college tuition, eroded the state’s retirement system, undermined investments in roads and bridges and contributed to three credit rating downgrades for the state.
Kentucky needs to eliminate tax breaks the powerful have put in our code so that we can move our state forward for everyone, not provide even more breaks for the wealthy few. Kentucky Together — a coalition including the groups above — is giving thanks for what we have today. Tomorrow, we will continue working together to protect investments in our communities, investments that inspire all to celebrate the commonwealth and well-being of Kentuckians.
The Rev. Kent H. Gilbert is president of the Kentucky Council of Churches and pastor of Union Church in Berea.