By Trey Grayson
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
Trey Grayson is president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
During 2015, Kentucky will experience an open-seat gubernatorial election for only the second time in 20 years. Given our state’s financial situation, this election is the most critical one in several decades, and we should pay close to attention to the records and platforms of the candidates.
In December, the Chamber unveiled Where We Stand, our 2015 legislative priority agenda. These eight priorities, combined with other Chamber priorities, would make a pretty good gubernatorial policy address. With that in mind, think of the rest of this column as “The Gubernatorial Speech You’d Like to Hear in the Upcoming Year.”
For too many years, Kentucky’s budget has been balanced with smoke and mirrors such as not funding pensions for teachers and state employees at an appropriate level. Fortunately, several tools can be adopted which will unleash the power of the private sector to help address our needs.
Public Private Partnerships, or P3, uses the expertise and efficiencies of the private sector in public infrastructure projects to allow each tax dollar can go farther. A P3 – a tool used by 34 other states – can help stretch our nearly $1.6 billion public construction investment so that we can better meet our infrastructure needs in transportation (such as the Brent Spence Bridge corridor), water, sewers and economic development.
The other tools we need to fill out our economic development toolbox:
• A local option sales tax, which gives cities and counties the option to ask their voters for a temporary 1 percent sales tax increase for a specific, important economic development projects. The tax would expire upon the competition of the project. This tool offers a useful form of self-help for our taxpayers, as all of the tax revenue generated stays in the region to pay for the project and goes away after development is complete.
• An improved historic tax credit and new incentives for communities to establish or expand local innovation districts, such as our UpTech. Both proposals will help spur economic development in urban areas.
• High-speed broadband. We need to modernize our antiquated telecommunications laws to allow the private sector the flexibility to invest in the broadband and wireless infrastructure that we need.
• A rational way of funding post-secondary education. Currently, we give universities a flat amount, regardless of how they perform. Instead, Kentucky should join six of our neighboring states in adopting an outcomes-based funding model. We can set the outcomes we want (more degrees of a certain type, higher retention rate, increased affordability, more participation from under-served populations, etc.), and our post-secondary institutions will better focus their efforts on these outcomes. That’s just common sense.
• A comprehensive bill to combat the heroin epidemic. Addiction is reducing the supply of available workers and causing many workers to be less productive as they have to miss work to care for loved ones. Addicts also pose a danger on job sites and often steal from their employers to feed their habits. To solve this crisis, we need to address both supply and demand using four general strategies: treatment, prevention, support and protection.
• An independent panel of medical experts to review claims against health care providers. Rising health care costs makes affording all of the above difficult, and a panel is one way to rein in costs by reducing abusive health care litigation. Such a review would expedite the process and provide a layer of accountability that is currently missing in Kentucky.
OK, I admit that this speech doesn’t contain enough applause lines or red meat for the partisans. But it does identify eight reforms that would make Kentucky a better place to live, work and play. That’s something that we can and should rally behind during the legislative session and governor’s race.