Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It’s Time for Real Tax Reform


By Linda Stettenbenz

Many Kentuckians, like myself, are struggling to find adequate employment, and are going back to school at public universities to try and improve our financial outlook. With tuition at our publicly funded universities rising on average 10 percent per year, we sink into personal debt just trying to find ways to stay afloat and move ahead. While we do our best to move ourselves and our families forward, the Kentucky legislature continues to move us further behind.

People like me pay a bigger portion of our income to state and local taxes than do Kentucky’s wealthiest. Still, every year we are told there is no way to properly fund the services we need the most. And once again, the legislature’s unwillingness to adopt needed reforms further sends Kentucky into decline.

As citizens, we must see through the smoke and mirrors of perpetually inadequate funding for critical services, and support fair and adequate reforms that will move us forward.

We need to demand no-nonsense reforms that will invest in our children, our workforce and the programs that keep our communities safe and healthy. One of the most commonsense, painless, and fair remedies is to change Kentucky’s regressive tax structure.

Right now, people who make $40,000 per year pay a much greater share of income in state and local taxes -- almost double -- than those who make $350,000 per year. If the richest 6 percent chipped in an average of $20 more per month, along with paying currently non-existent sales taxes on things like charter plane rentals and golf course fees, it would fully fund an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for 300,000 working families, and create a stable and fair system of revenue.

How can we expect adults and families to prosper if they are only trained for low-paying and declining jobs? According to a recently released Mountain Association for Community Economic Development report, “Kentucky ranks 41st among the states in share of adults with a high school education or GED, and 46th in share of adults with an associate’s degree or higher....80 percent of the job needs in Kentucky in 2016 will require at least two years of training past high school.” Yet, we lag far behind other states in funding adult education and providing proper resources for working families to move ahead.

Most state legislatures recognize the need to keep the recession from pulling us further back. Thirty-three other states passed reforms to raise public dollars since the recession began. But in Kentucky, where we have among the highest unemployment and lowest paying jobs, our legislators are sacrificing us and our children to keep their most influential supporters happy.

They toss a few crumbs to schools in agreeable legislators’ districts; they pretend to balance the budget with tricks like moving the date on state workers’ paychecks; and they continue to ask the most from those who are struggling. When the Poison Control Hotline told legislators it needed funding to maintain its services, it was told to “be creative.” Funding for Kentucky’s mental health clinics has flat-lined for 14 years, even as inflation and need rises. We again face cuts to K-12 education, GED completion programs and higher education. This is not sound leadership, and it won’t move us forward.

Tax policy and budgets can seem intimidating or confusing to the average citizen. We may think we are powerless to change it due to money and old power networks that are so influential in Kentucky politics. But this is exactly what we must do. We are experts. We are people who have friends, sons, and daughters who are struggling to find decent employment or pay tuition at public universities. We value K-12 education, mental health clinics, the poison control hotline, and programs that provide for public health and safety. And we know it’s not right to ask the most from those who can afford it the least. Legislators need our leadership. It’s time for real reforms to move Kentucky forward.
Stettenbenz lives in Jefferson County and is looking for adequate employment.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Kentucky Forum. 4/10