Over the course of my nine-plus months as a State Senator, I have received correspondence on a number of issues. People experiencing problems navigating government bureaucracy in the state or at the federal level, feeling frustrated about a law already on the books or a law they wish would be put on the books, and more than a handful who believe Amanda and I have moved to Washington, D.C. This comes with the territory, and I gladly help every way I can. But one issue has been a steady contestant for my attention over this ﬁrst year.
I had the privilege of taking a tour of South Todd Elementary School two weeks ago to visit with teachers and students. During the visit, I learned several things, some of which are speciﬁc to the South Todd Cardinals and others that will sound very familiar to faculty and administrators at any other school.
This year, South Todd had to choose between hiring a guidance counselor or another teacher. In some classrooms, textbooks have not been updated for nearly a decade. School supply budgets have been trimmed annually, though the need for supplies (and their cost) continue to climb. As teachers reading this know, that means lots of supplies are bought with money from their own pockets. I also learned something new - preschool teachers, at least in Todd, get no money at all for supplies, yet those classrooms arguably use more than most. Every penny comes out of faculty pockets.
I won’t even bother talking about the guidance counseling, social working and parenting that teachers and administrators are asked to do. The depth and breadth of what state government does because of the failing family unit is more than I can ﬁt in single editorial.
Unsurprisingly, the need for money doesn’t stop at education. Earlier this month in Hopkinsville, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton testiﬁed before the Judiciary Committee that the Court of Justice has lost employees to fast food chains. In court I see social workers that are overworked and underpaid. Prosecutors, public defenders, and court workers are put on mandatory unpaid furloughs. Road crew workers have their hours cut. There is a dearth of mental health services, particularly for youth. Cost of living adjustments haven’t been seen in years.
There are ways to ﬁx this. We could expand gaming, because, naturally, we should fund the Commonwealth’s budget shortfalls from the pockets of her poorest citizens. We could also raise taxes. Of course there are circumstances under which a tax increase is understandable, but when taxes are raised to pay for problems the taxpayer didn’t cause (read: pension deﬁcits), I have a problem.
Instead, why not spend what resources we already have more wisely? Why not simply pursue common sense reforms that grow Kentucky’s tax base? For example, I am fully in favor of implementing sales tax holidays, which is a big deal for all of us along the Tennessee border. We should consider eliminating the state income tax making Kentucky more attractive to families relocating. We should make Kentucky a “right-to-work” state, eliminating forced unionism. I have seen ﬁrsthand the competition from right-to-work states for businesses considering coming to Kentucky.
Legislation has been put forward in both chambers of the General Assembly that would eliminate senseless spending for prevailing wage, where the state is required to pay higher hourly wages (between 20%-30% more what each county could do if even 20 percent of each public construction project’s cost was redirected to pay off our state debts, for textbooks and teachers for our students, or for family services.
Galatians 6:7 reminds us “man reaps what he sows.” We must not continue to ignore what is truly important for the sake of protecting sacred cows and political ties. We must show resolve in making the right choices about how we spend what resources we have, to provide safe and thriving communities, and to truly share in Kentucky’s common wealth.
Whitney Westerfield is the state senator for Logan, Todd and Christian counties.