A couple of quotes sum up what engaged Kentucky voters already know.
The first one is provided by Mahatma Gandhi, who inspired civil-rights movements worldwide, said: “Action expresses priorities.”
Second, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once opined: “It is not arrogant government that chooses priorities; it’s an irresponsible government that fails to choose.”
Actions demonstrated by too many Kentucky policymakers during this year’s legislative session indicate a failure to get on the same page when it comes to voters’ priorities.
A new poll conducted in January by Fabrizio Ward of 600 likely voters for (full disclosure) my organization, the Bluegrass Institute, found that Kentuckians of all political stripes want Frankfort to focus on a few important priorities that affect the greatest number of citizens and have long-term impact.
The survey’s voters were asked to choose which of 11 issues should be the priority of Kentucky’s governor and legislators. By a 2-to-1 margin, both Democrats (53 percent of respondents) and Republicans (39 percent) chose the “jobs/economy” category as the most important area for Frankfort to deal with. “Education” and “health care” were also chosen as the second and third priorities by respondents.
But too much of the activity in Frankfort demonstrates a disconnect with constituents back home who seem to understand better than many elected policymakers that growing the economy and improving our education system clear a path for success in solving Kentucky’s most-pressing problems.
For instance, we need to properly fund our public pension and education systems. Yet aren’t we already taxed enough? So, where will additional tax revenue come from if it’s not from rising incomes that result from growing, competitive and healthy economies?
Kentuckians’ per-capita income in 2013 was barely more than $36,000, which was $4,000 less than Missouri, $5,000 less than Ohio, $10,000 less than Illinois and a whopping $12,000 less than Virginia. In fact, our per-capita income is the lowest of all surrounding states except for West Virginia, which – with its new political blood in Charleston – likely will soon catch up with us.
So why, for example, do we have Republicans in the Kentucky Senate pushing for – of all things – to ramp up regulations on the beer industry?
Regulating the distribution of beer? Really?
Our poll not only asked respondents to name their top priorities but to indicate which of the issues they considered “least important.”
While 8 percent thought the minimum wage, for instance, was a priority, an even greater number – 10 percent – indicated it should not take up valuable time in a short, 30-day General Assembly session when time is at a premium.
Perhaps the most-telling part of this poll reveals what voters consider the lowest priority; a whopping 54 percent of respondents chose beer-industry regulations as the least important.
Yet much of the news coming out of Frankfort– and nearly every time we’ve seen House Democratic leaders commenting about an issue – during this session – hasn’t been about how we need to grow this economy.
Rather, it’s been about their pet project: a bill that would, if passed as is would force the Anheuser-Busch to give up a Louisville distributorship it has owned for nearly 40 years and an Owensboro facility in recently purchased, which Franklin Circuit Court ruled was legal.
In doing so, they offer solutions for a problem that doesn’t exist.
These actions suggest that Frankfort’s priorities are out of sync with those of voters from every corner of this commonwealth.