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Kentucky Should use Surplus to Reverse Years of Higher Ed Cuts, Not Cut Taxes

Berry Craig
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Kentucky stands at a crossroads in 2023. After weathering a pandemic, historic inflation and the economic uncertainty that comes with it, our commonwealth has an opportunity to invest in you, its working people, on a scale we haven’t seen in decades. Federal pandemic relief funds and inflation-boosted tax revenues have given Kentucky a much-needed budget surplus. This money could be put to use to provide vital services for all Kentuckians, boost the state's economy, and reverse years of harmful cuts to higher education. 

Unfortunately, our politicians in Frankfort don’t seem to agree. 

House Bill 8, a Republican-led piece of legislation, aims to use that surplus to cut taxes in a way that benefits the wealthy, rather than making transformative investments that would benefit everyone in the commonwealth. In short, the people we have elected to look out for our interests have instead chosen to keep things the same, to keep you, your family and neighbors in desperation because that’s what gives them their power.

The United Campus Workers of Kentucky (UCWKY), Communications Workers of America Local 3365, the state’s public higher education union, opposes HB8. Legislators should use the budget surplus to fix roads, pay teachers what they deserve, and to fully invest in public higher education and other public agencies that have experienced decades of funding cuts. 

Kentucky’s eight 4-year institutions and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) have experienced extensive cuts over the last two decades. Cuts to higher education affect our ability to keep tuition affordable and students debt free, teach classes, advise and support students, and conduct critical, life-saving research in labs across the state. Kentucky Center for Economic Policy research reports that from 2008-2021, higher education in Kentucky suffered 11 budget cuts in 13 years and state funding for higher education is down by 22%. 

At one KCTCS campus, these budget cuts have led to a starting salary for full-time faculty of only $36,000, the lowest in the state, which has resulted in high turn-over. The lack of continuity from turnover affects student learning outcomes and retention, since students return to school and succeed primarily when they make meaningful connections with their teachers.

In a state where public higher education has traditionally been a pathway out of poverty, this represents a tragic and unacceptable attack on the working people of Kentucky. While we applaud the legislative efforts in the 2021-22 budget to begin to reverse historic cuts, we know that HB8 will lead to further erosion of an already bare bones public education system. 

Rather than harming economic growth by cutting funding for jobs and needed services from our towns and communities, our representatives should invest in the hardworking people of Kentucky. This would stimulate the economy by creating new jobs and improving infrastructure that will draw more investors to our state and create additional opportunities for growth and success. An investment in robust and accessible public higher education puts more Kentuckians in charge of how Kentucky is run.  

UCWKY asks you to join us by signing this letter urging lawmakers in Frankfort to use this historic budget surplus to invest in education, roads, libraries, and other key services. We want to work together with lawmakers and employees across all public agencies invested in our common good to build a future that lifts up and takes care of all Kentuckians.

In Solidarity,

The officers of UCW Kentucky:

Seth Littrell, President

Donald Moore, Vice President

Katie Kleinkopf, Secretary

Keegan Stewart, Treasurer