The real takeaway from tonight’s address from Governor Matt Bevin is a question: What kind of commonwealth do we want to be? Is it one in which needed protections for kids are absent and a rising tide of poverty is pervasive? A place where families struggle to stay together and early investments for kids fall to the wayside?
Or will we as a commonwealth move towards an environment in which current challenges do not cloud a brighter vision for the future of Kentucky kids? A commonwealth in which every Kentucky kid has a family and caregivers can provide for their children? A commonwealth that is the best place in America to be a kid?
The Governor began by realizing the potential at hand and prioritizing kids and families through a commitment to combat the plague of opioids, to support front line social workers, and to begin to reform the adoption and the foster care systems. The proposed funding to lift the Kinship Care moratorium in the Governor’s budget represents a vital step forward for those who are caring for children who have experienced abuse and neglect.
To go where we need to go our elected leaders WILL have to join Governor Bevin in pursuing tax reform to bring in additional revenue to fund critical services for kids and families. And until we find a common ground way to find sufficient state revenue for those imperatives, Kentucky is always going to be looking for band-aids instead of focusing on innovation and investment.
And other opportunities await. As an example, we can seize any number of policy proposals that will not cost additional money. Tonight Governor Bevin affirmed his commitment to criminal justice reform that will address Kentucky’s high rate of children who have had a parent incarcerated. Legislators have the opportunity to hold parents accountable in ways that allow them to care for their children. Legislators also have the opportunity to build on measures that keep our kids safe by moving functions of the Ombudsman’s Office of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services outside of that Cabinet. And they have the opportunity to implement more pragmatic youth justice policies by better responding when young children get in trouble.
Along with these non-budget items, legislators have the opportunity to champion measures that are good for kids and will provide a strong and rather immediate return on investment for the state budget. We know that strong child care supports allow parents to participate in Kentucky’s workforce—putting more dollars into local economies. There is also an immediate and long-term ROI in terms of health savings that would accompany an increase of $1 or more to the state’s tobacco tax. Babies who are born will be healthier now, and teens who never start smoking with be healthier in the future—while also bringing in revenue to the state budget.
Tonight’s address teaches two lessons. In the long term, adequate revenue for critical services for our children is THE singular element in defining Kentucky’s future. And just as certainly, it challenges us to take advantage of pragmatic and present opportunities for kids, be those around policies with no fiscal impact or seizing the ideas that are good for kids and good for the state’s budget.
Read Governor Bevin’s proposed budget here.