Kentucky is headed the wrong way, down a dangerous road.
The prevailing sentiment in Frankfort these days is that we can somehow take a shortcut to prosperity. That by cutting education, reducing workers’ wages and protections and eliminating access to health care for people who work for a living, we can best move Kentucky forward.
Such thinking is a fiction.
There are no shortcuts to prosperity in a state that faces the socioeconomic challenges that confront us. Gov. Matt Bevin is a talented and effective salesman but in this instance, his product is defective.
Those who have spent time in the private sector, including former investment advisers, should know that the economy is driven by middle-class consumption. It stands to reason that we ought to adopt policies that strengthen and expand the Kentucky middle class rather than doing precisely the opposite.
Instead, we are told that we can build the middle class by adopting policies that diminish wages for our workers.
In an age in which access to the Internet is a precondition for economic growth, a statewide broadband initiative is gutted, justified by the governor wielding the knife that “we must walk before we run.” As if time is somehow on our side in a bullet-train world.
Paradoxically, we are lectured that it’s more cost effective over the long-term to have a large uninsured population. As if we haven’t tried that for the last century.
Frankfort politicians grunt self-congratulations to one another about holding the line on taxes while driving college tuition into the stratosphere. The net result is pricing middle- and working-class kids out of higher education. There is a special hypocrisy wing in the hall of shame for politicians who don’t understand that high tuition is the worst kind of tax increase, as it represents a tax on both hope and our future prosperity.
Let me be clear, one cannot claim the mantle of “job creator” in the digital age while advocating policies that diminish human capital. Outside of politics and reality television there is no such thing as a low-skill, high-wage economy.
There is a better way.
We ought to sprint rather than walk in our efforts to make sure every Kentuckian is connected to the web and has access to a great public school and an affordable higher education.
We ought to modernize our outdated tax system and produce one that values work rather than static wealth. Kentucky taxpayers deserve a system that invests in our people and enables economic growth.
We ought to build on the national success of Kynect and focus on strategies that transition the newly insured into a healthier population more easily insured in the private market.
And we ought to find a direct revenue source to solve the pension crisis, rather than rely on an assumption of fiscal discipline from the very politicians who helped create the crisis in the first place.
And we’ve got to start giving our people the tools they need to benefit from change rather than impotently attempting to shield them from the inevitable.
These big, important things can be achieved provided our leaders find the will to ditch ideology for problem solving and resist the siren songs of incrementalism and partisanship.
History will harshly judge not only those who seek to make us less than what we can be, but also those of us who stand idly by.
We must put Kentucky on a higher, better road.
Adam Edelen of Lexington is the founder of Edelen Strategic Ventures and Kentucky’s former state auditor.