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Frankfort buzzes with bipartisan talk of tax hikes

Considering Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s newly released big-spending budget proposal for the upcoming biennium, perhaps Hodgenville Republican Rep. Brandon Reed, who recently filed a resolution designating October as “National Pork Month in Kentucky,” should include a companion declaration recognizing 2021-2022 as “Milk Taxpayers Dry Years.”

One of the “yes” votes for such a resolution might come from Louisville Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey, who could hardly contain himself following the governor’s recent address to the legislature outlining his budget, which relies heavily on tax hikes to increase the paychecks of teachers and state workers as well as jack up funding for schools and government-run health care programs. McGarvey nearly hyperventilated while gushing excitedly to reporters about how proposed tax increases under consideration “are all Republican bills,” as if bipartisan agreements somehow make such hikes the right approach or less painful for taxpayers.

GOP Rep. Steven Rudy, who chairs the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, on the same day as Beshear’s budget address filed a bill that raises taxes on a multitude of tobacco and vaping products – which will affect mostly poor Kentuckians – and punishes employers by increasing the limited liability tax.

Does it really matter to business owners or poor Kentuckians which political party sticks it to them since the consequences are the same?

Beshear’s priorities, meanwhile, don’t make room for protecting taxpayers or growing Kentucky’s economy. 

After all, there are teachers’ unions to repay for getting him elected and Republicans fearful of what those union bosses may do during their reelection campaigns this fall if they dare oppose them.

Who wants to vote against a $2,000 across-the-board raise for teachers during an election year when, as Beshear claimed in his budget address, their counterparts in Mississippi received a similar raise?

However, Beshear mischaracterizes what’s happening in Mississippi by leaving out the fact that the National Education Association’s own data show the average salary for Kentucky’s public school teachers is nearly $53,000 – more than $8,000 higher than Mississippi’s teachers who got a notable pay jump of $1,915 in 2016.

Despite that gap and the fact Kentucky teachers’ pay rose $3,409 between 2009 and 2018 compared to their counterparts in Mississippi, who received only a $2,619 increase during the same period, the Magnolia State greatly improved its academic performance compared to the Bluegrass State’s lackluster performance.

While Kentucky’s recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results haven’t improved – with some scores even decaying – Mississippi students significantly outscored their Kentucky counterparts on the 2019 NAEP fourth grade reading and math results, despite even-higher minority and poverty rates than those in our state. This isn’t happening because there aren’t good teachers in our commonwealth or due to some huge gap in motivation between them and their Mississippi colleagues.

A closer look reveals that Mississippi now spends its education dollars more strategically and, based on the NAEP scores, with greater effectiveness by providing better training for both new and longer-serving teachers regarding how to teach reading based on sound scientific research rather than the failed whole-language approach that diminishes phonics.

Beshear’s budget proposal also ignores the increased burden of higher teachers’ salaries on the commonwealth’s pension system. His proposal to fatten teachers’ paychecks increases spending by much more than the initial $188 million in salaries. Such a raise also requires an additional $60 million be dumped into the Teachers’ Retirement System during the next budget to cover the additional impact on the pension plan.

How many additional higher-taxed Marlboro cigarettes do poor Kentuckians need to purchase to cover such a huge – and unacknowledged – cost?

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.

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