One of my favorite spots in Kentucky is on top of a steep knob overlooking the Rolling Fork River valley in Marion County. The reward of a strenuous hike is sitting on a limestone outcropping on a clear winter day seeing the log home of my great-great-grandparents, the wide river valley pasture below, spotted with Angus cows and, beyond the river, the forests and fields of Casey County.
This spot is a place of inspiration and imagination. My ancestors migrated to this land because they sought a better way of living for themselves and their children. It offered opportunities to farm, build communities and gain financial security.
Nearly 200 years later, I question why our commonwealth has failed to live up to its potential. Why are nearly one in four of our children living in dire poverty? Why do we have such a sick people? Why are opportunities for higher education so expensive? Why are so many of our public schools struggling? Why are so many suffering mental illness? Why are our young people being sent to early graves by guns and drugs? Why do our prisons continue to house far too many? Why are our political leaders so shortsighted and lacking vision to invest in our people?
As a state legislator for over 27 years, I am frustrated and angry with a status quo in Frankfort that condemns so many to limited economic and academic opportunities, poor mental and physical health, violence and environmental degradation.
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Right-wing Republicans and timid Democrats wait for the free market to miraculously save us, like Deus ex machina in a Greek drama.
The free market will not rescue us. It never has and never will because it is based on profit and greed, not the common good. Economists, health experts and sociologists from each end of the political spectrum have been telling us for years about our downward spiral. Still the powerbrokers of Frankfort refuse to act, or perhaps more accurately, do not have the leadership abilities and moral courage to act to raise revenue and invest in our people.
The budget by our Republican governor is a disgrace. It does everything to make the state worse: disinvesting in education, health care, environmental protections, public protections, the courts, child and adult protections, foster care, transportation and drug rehab.
Instead of building coalitions of citizen and legislative groups to enact fair, adequate and modern tax reforms to boost the amount of money to invest in Kentucky, these Republicans (and some Democratic accomplices) starve our people of life-giving programs and services. This strategy is killing people. This strategy feeds the decline of our commonwealth further, moving us closer to becoming a Third World country.
No state budget should be passed this legislative session without first revamping our tax system. Do the leaders in Frankfort have the skill and moral fiber to tackle this long delayed policy emergency?
If they refuse or can’t, as so many leaders in both parties have refused or couldn’t during the last 20 years, then the people of Kentucky must replace them. The time for redirecting our resources and energies into our people is now. Delaying compounds our many troubles and pushes us further behind in every category of wellness as a people.
Unless we collectively invest in ourselves we face a present and a future of increased poverty, ill health and ignorance, a widening economic gap and environmental degradation. Tell legislators to refuse the governor’s budget proposal and demand tax reform now so we save ourselves.
Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat, represents the 35th House District.