Kentucky voices: Tax reform a must to improve Ky.'s future

In his victory speech, Gov. Steve Beshear said, "All of us must work together to create the Kentucky we know is possible."

Kentuckians are ready to begin that work. The questions on the front burner for a great many Kentuckians include: How can we get good jobs? How can we make sure that our kids' schools are preparing them for college and job readiness, and how can we make sure that college educations and job readiness programs are affordable? What can we do, right now, to improve the health of Kentuckians and create the healthy communities that we all want?

The answers to these questions must include re-envisioning our state tax structure.

Jobs, education, safe drinking water, protected and healthy communities, quality of life — this is the work of our public investments. The single most comprehensive way to move ourselves forward is through comprehensive tax reform.

The Partnership for Kentucky's Future maintains that state tax reform — real reform — should be aligned with these principles:

■ Revenue solutions should sustain a good quality of life through essential investments in good schools, health care, public safety and other necessary functions of our state government.

■ Our taxes should be balanced, reasonable and fair, with fiscal responsibilities shared equitably among all citizens and businesses by minimizing taxes on low-income people and bringing more balance to our tax code.

■ Our tax structure should be sustainable, with reliably constant sources of revenue that grow along with the economy. Reform that is aligned with these principles is the biggest need for our commonwealth right now, and the biggest opportunity for our future.

As a second-term governor, Beshear has not only the responsibility, but also a special opportunity, to lead Kentucky in these much-needed reforms. The fragile economy was cited during the gubernatorial campaign as a reason to refrain from tax reform. But economists say that adequate state revenue is a key piece in weathering tough times.

Further, Kentuckians' concern about the economy is an opportunity for our elected leaders — the governor and our legislators — to make the case to people who are willing and ready to listen and learn.

We cannot expect state revenues to grow considerably in the near future without these reforms, especially given the troubled economy. Experts say Kentucky faces a shortfall of at least half a billion dollars in next year's budget, and the gap is a lot bigger if we actually rolled back some of the painful cuts that have been put in place.

In addition, the state's continued high unemployment and poverty levels mean increased need for public services. We must have a robust budget that fully funds necessary infrastructure, programs and services and invests in the quality of our schools and universities and job training programs, the health of our citizens and the quality of life in our communities.

Comprehensive state tax reform can make all of this possible.

Reform that meets the principles we have set out is not about shifting to consumption taxes. There's plenty in our election results to suggest that Kentuckians understand why a shift from income to consumption taxes would harm Kentucky, both by widening the gap between the wealthiest and everyone else, and by failing to generate revenue to sustain a good quality of life.

The momentum of a win at the polls gives a leader an opening to accomplish something that is not easy: turning support into action. The governor can work with legislators and the people of Kentucky to do the things that will move the state forward.

And the most important of all these things is state tax reform. With reforms in place, Kentucky can build toward the future that we deserve. Without them, we lack the tools that we'll need to build that future.

Across the globe and certainly here in Kentucky, people are standing up — in squares, on sidewalks, in public parks, and in politicians' offices — to demand honest, transparent, accountable government that serves the interests of us all, the common good.

Comprehensive tax reform that is principled will answer those demands and will go a long way to restoring public confidence in our elected leaders.