Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has been in office 35 years and has the seniority to address these problems, doesn’t have the answers. Despite his role as majority leader, much of the Kentucky economy—and the infrastructure it depends on—has long been ignored. We have a senator who says “no” to everything Kentuckians need. Sen. McConnell voted against raising the minimum wage at least 20 times while voting to raise his own taxpayer-funded salary six times. To top it off, he passed a tax bill that featured massive giveaways to the wealthy and large corporations—giveaways that will increase taxes on 53 percent of Americans by 2027, according to the Tax Policy Center.
That is inexcusable.
Here in Kentucky, we need empathic, clear-eyed leaders who are willing to make the hard choices to better serve the great people of this state—people known for their hard work, their energy, and their drive. We need leaders who know how to say “yes” to making Kentucky strong for all Kentuckians—not just the rich and powerful. We need leaders who say “yes” to raising the minimum wage, “yes” to investing in underserved communities, and “yes” to funding for badly-needed infrastructure improvements. I will be that kind of senator.
From the crumbling Brent Spence Bridge in Kenton County, to the ailing water system in Martin County, to the lack of broadband internet access in rural Kentucky, our state badly needs new investments in infrastructure to grow a strong economy of the future.
Roads & Bridges
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Kentucky a D+ for road conditions, C- for our bridges, and a C+ for drinking water. This is unacceptable. Without major, purposeful investments in our aging infrastructure, we will struggle to keep up with the rest of the country. To recruit new businesses and sustain the current economy, we need to do much better.
Making Broadband More Accessible
Up to a quarter of Americans live without a broadband connection, but Kentucky’s internet speeds are nearly the slowest in the nation. Up to 80 percent of some rural residents—like those in Hancock and Lyon counties—do not have access to a single broadband provider. This lack of high-speed internet or no internet at all has left rural Kentuckians with significant barriers to economic development, education, and higher overall quality of life. We need high-speed internet in every corner of Kentucky to sustain our current industries and attract new ones.
Making the Electricity Grid Smarter
The electricity grid is the backbone of our economy, our national security, and our way of life. But our grid is aging rapidly. If we do not improve it, it will become more vulnerable to disruption from power outages, terrorists and hackers. To be able to compete in the 21st century, we must have reliable electricity, broadband and security. We must upgrade our grid infrastructure.
Education and Training
A path to the middle class has been all but cut off for far too many families by wages that have failed to keep pace with the rising costs of living, and the lack of job opportunities accessible to them. We must start investing in the basics again—education and training—so that financial stability is back within the grasp of all Kentuckians.
People need good-paying jobs and they shouldn’t have to move to find them. Kentucky faces significant challenges in this area. In 2019, Forbes ranked Kentucky 47th for its labor supply. Kentucky’s labor problem starts early in the education pipeline: only 50 percent of Kentucky kids arrive at Kindergarten ready to succeed in school. This has far-reaching effects, well into high school and college. According to a 2017 survey, over 40 percent of Kentucky companies said they need more employees with bachelor’s degrees, and more workers with industry or professional certifications. But only about half of Kentucky’s workforce has an education beyond high school. The biggest shortages are medical professionals, engineers and skilled tradespeople.
To mend the education-to-workforce pipeline, we need high-quality early education programs and a well-funded public education system. We need to coordinate education and training with organizations and individuals on the ground in our communities who know what works. We should explore subsidizing employers to provide internships for young adults from underserved communities for real, hands-on experience, to help ensure that students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.
Working to update our infrastructure and shoring up our education and training programs are necessary steps to enable a strong economic future. But we must also protect our current industries while encouraging entrepreneurship in regions without a diverse economy. This kind of creative entrepreneurship will better sustain long-term growth.
We need to reinvest in coal communities. Kentucky’s coal miners literally fueled the growth of the nation, and helped power us to become the greatest economy the world has ever seen. We need to repay the sacrifice of generations of people now bearing the brunt of changing global energy markets.
Small farmers and ranchers are also struggling nationwide as fewer—yet much larger—commercial farms eat up agricultural revenues. Additionally, the recent tariffs and trade war, which Sen. McConnell has done nothing to stop, are hurting our country’s farmers. In fact, during Sen. McConnell’s career, Kentucky has lost nearly 10,000 family farms.
Federal policy tends to write off small-scale producers and farms as unproductive. But in the long-term, this devastates rural communities and the Kentuckians who live there. We need to re-examine Farm Bill programs designed to form a “safety net” for farmers, like subsidies, credit programs and crop insurance policies, and make sure they are working for small, family farms, not just the largest operations.
Finally, we need to foster an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurship. Whether the new business is a tech startup in the city or a new family-owned restaurant on Main Street, we need to help it grow. We need new federal grants for small business development in our communities, and we need to reward entrepreneurs and small business owners by making our tax system fairer to our small businesses.