For almost all of us in the United States of America, there was once a belief that the Great Recession was the most catastrophic economic upheaval of our lives. Up until March, 2020 many could even argue that the last few years represented the best economy of our lifetimes, then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 6,900,000+ Americans have been infected, 201,400+ have perished and 4,400,000+ have recovered. In Kentucky, 67,700+ residents have tested positive, 1,100+ have perished and 11,400+ have recovered. While there are some great signs of encouragement that the spread of the virus is slowly being mitigated and state authorities are beginning to relax stay at home orders and related restrictions, the severe economic damage inflicted upon our economies is not yet totally known. What we do know is that to date, 32,100,000+ Americans including 1,000,000+ Kentuckians have filed for unemployment benefits due to the crisis.
It is critical to the survival of our Commonwealth and to the entire United States that we restart our economies as quickly, safely and soundly as possible. We must get our people back to work so they are able to generate the necessary financial resources to support their families and to help rejuvenate sufficient levels of commerce to repair and restart supply chains and the overall economy. Once our economy is restarted, life can also be breathed back into the revenue cycles of our city, county, state and federal governments to provide for the efficient provision of essential public services, especially those related to the safety, health, security and prosperity of all Americans.
To become and remain successful in our endeavors to restart, rebuild and sustain the economies within all jurisdictions of the Commonwealth, we must all strive for better collaboration with a keen focus on the principles of continuous improvement and respect for each other. With these guiding principles and by building trusting relationships through clear communications within and between the private and public sectors we can meet and even exceed expectations for bringing prosperity back to all in our society. While we will all never agree on everything, we can learn again to agree on somethings, at the very least enough to ensure that our precious human and financial resources are being invested in a way to ensure the strength of our Commonwealth for generations to come.
There are many matters of great importance to Senate District 7 and our entire Commonwealth. Through better collaboration we will have a much better opportunity to identify, develop, implement and sustain more effective solutions to meet and overcome our challenges now and in the future.
Kentucky’s Public Pension Systems
There are many public employees (educators; police, fire, and EMT; and state employees) who reside in Senate District 7 and throughout the Commonwealth. I am a state government retiree with service in the legislative and executive branches, and proud to say that I had the honor and privilege to work with very smart and hardworking individuals who were very dedicated to providing many years of outstanding public service. It is only fair and right that the Commonwealth honors its commitment to its public pension retirees.
The Commonwealth’s public pension systems were at great risk of failure before the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and are at even greater risk now and into the future. There are three primary actions that must be taken now to strengthen and save the systems from failure. First, the systems must develop and implement continuous improvement plans to verify their current state of affairs, confirm their future ideal state with the timeframe for achievement, and remain committed to an ongoing plan to achieve the future state. Second, the systems must conduct annual financial and operational audits to clearly know and demonstrate their current annual state of affairs and that they are on track to successfully realize the future state. Third, additional financial resources garnered through enhanced professional financial investments and full implementation of continuous improvement cost-savings measures in the public employee healthcare service and insurance programs.
Revenue Enhancement for the Commonwealth’s Financial Obligations
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was already in dire need of additional financial resources to meet its financial obligations. Post COVID-19 the need for additional revenue has been exacerbated. The Kentucky legislative and executive branches must come together to find innovative solutions to implement continuous improvement measures that make the very best use of our precious and very valuable public human and financial resources.
First, during the last three gubernatorial administrations, the Kentucky Legislature has made efforts to develop and implement demonstration projects which would confirm specific methods to retain current healthcare insurance and service benefits for public sector employees while also creating prospective cost savings which could potentially save as much as $500 million per each fiscal year of the biennial budget, once fully implemented. I would advocate for these funds to be specifically used to address a significant portion of the financial needs of the public pension system.
Secondly, the implementation of continuous improvement plans and practices must be implemented throughout all public institutions which receive funding authorized by the Kentucky Legislature. This will help ensure the best use of our human and financial resources and to identify financial savings to be used to address the needs of essential services of all public institutions in all jurisdictions of the Commonwealth.
Third, the executive branch in collaboration with all local jurisdictions of government and with key private sector representatives of growth industry sectors, to include but not be limited to manufacturing and its service support industries (logistics; utilities; research, testing, and development, etc.), the healthcare, logistics, agriculture and energy industries, must develop comprehensive short, medium and long-range post-COVID-19 economic/talent development/sustainment strategic plans, with final approval required by the Kentucky Legislature. This will help ensure Kentucky’s best chance for economic and societal survival, and prosperity for all generations to come.
Fourth, the executive and legislative branches must collaborate to develop and implement an innovative and comprehensive tax plan that is both fair and equitable. It must be demonstrated that the taxation plan best meets the needs for the successful implementation and sustainment of the economic/talent development/sustainment plans.
Finally, the Kentucky legislature must once and for all pass a constitutional amendment to allow voters of the Commonwealth to cast their ballot on a proposal to allow expanded gaming. Kentucky is a beautiful tourism state which is blessed to be within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population. It is estimated that nearly $400 million in tax revenue and over $1.5 billion in economic activity could be generated on an annual basis in Kentucky. The Commonwealth already has horse racing, the lottery, and bingo, why not add expanded gaming to allow Kentucky to reach its full potential for tourism development. There is a significant segment of the Kentucky population that gambles for entertainment and for the most part, does so on a regular basis outside the borders of the Commonwealth. We must seriously take every reasonable opportunity to bring gaming revenue to Kentucky. In addition to addressing budgetary matters, a significant portion of the proceeds received by Kentucky could be used to help those who recklessly gamble their precious financial resources or are otherwise addicted to gambling.
While I agree that all must have access to high quality and affordable healthcare services and insurance, it is politically expedient to say that having access to healthcare is a “right.” In order for all to have high-quality affordable healthcare we must do everything possible to make sure our economy has lucrative career opportunities for all who are able to secure life-sustaining careers with great benefits including, access to healthcare services and the necessary insurance coverages. It must also be our goal to strengthen our economy enough to continue to help mentally and physically challenged individuals who are unable to pursue and secure a career opportunity in order to obtain sufficient healthcare services.
Kentucky’s executive and legislative branches must collaborate with all aspects of the healthcare industry and the federal government to develop and implement continuous improvement plans and practices. All aspects of the healthcare industry must be required to post their pricing of prescriptions and medical services. Individuals, companies and associations must be allowed to shop for healthcare services and insurance plans across state lines to increase competition in the industry.
If Kentucky and all states of the USA are unable to contain the runaway costs of healthcare services and insurance policies, the cost of high-quality healthcare will soon drive most of us into bankruptcy.
Education and Training
Please understand that I fully understand and appreciate we are all very blessed to live in a free country with the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Individuals are free to pursue whatever career pathway they desire and to complete the necessary educational graduation or training requirements to hopefully reach their goals in life. With that said, in my humble opinion, the best way these days and for years to come for most to punch their ticket on the pathway to prosperity is the pursuit of a technical career in a growth industry sector, such as manufacturing and its service support industries (logistics; utilities; research, testing, and development, etc.), and the healthcare industry. From highly skilled front-line workers and supervisors to technicians and skilled trades to engineers, nurses, and doctors, technical careers in growth industry sectors must be more effectively promoted as lucrative career opportunities with great compensation and benefits, especially healthcare. Kentucky must do more to enhance the image of growth industry sectors and their lucrative career pathways and better connect talent pipelines to education, training, and employment opportunities.
Sufficient Supply of High-Quality Food and Water
Until the COVID-19 crisis, most of us took for granted that we would always have all the high-quality food and water ever needed to meet our needs. Little did we know that during a crisis of such epic proportions that supply chains would be damaged and in some cases even broken to the extent that sufficient supplies of high-quality food and water would become a concern. Kentucky is very blessed when it comes to the ability of our farmers to produce high-quality food and entrepreneurs to provide potable water to supply the marketplace in the Commonwealth and beyond. Nevertheless, the private and public sectors, in collaboration with Kentucky’s executive and legislative branches must come together to develop innovative solutions to ensure our essential supply chain of life-sustaining food and water products will always be intact regardless of the crisis.
In conclusion, our challenges are many but yet they are surmountable if we all strive for better collaboration with a keen focus on the principles of continuous improvement and respect for each other. Americans, especially Kentuckians have always risen to meet and overcome their common challenges when tasked to do so. Now more than ever Kentucky’s public and private sectors must come together and face our challenges head-on and overcome them for the sake of the survival of our Commonwealth. I stand ready and have committed myself to collaborate with all who are willing and able to do what is best to support our people in their quest for prosperity now and in the future.