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February 4, 2021 7:20pm

Op-ed: 2021 could be a turning point toward a better Kentucky if politicians take bold action

This op-ed first appeared in The Courier Journal on February 4, 2021. 

As our state continues reeling from a global pandemic and resulting economic restrictions, the General Assembly faces unprecedented challenges.

 It is imperative legislators fulfill their obligation to help our state heal and move forward from a year that has harmed Kentuckians physically, mentally, and financially. However, they also have a unique opportunity to rebuild from the ground up and enact bold policies to position our state for future prosperity.

Lawmakers must use this second half of the legislative session to not only tackle the most pressing issues facing our state as a result of COVID-19 but also to address issues that have hindered Kentucky and the people that call it home for too long. Now is the time to address our problems — new and old — head-on.

As the voice of the business community, GLI is advocating for a number of priorities related to and beyond COVID relief, including:

  • Legal liability protections
  • Stabilization of the unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund
  • Allowing businesses to deduct expenses paid for with forgiven Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans
  • Stabilization of the childcare sector
  • Regulatory relief
  • Support for tourism and hospitality
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Increased access to high-quality education and workforce opportunities
  • Improved accessibility of public transportation

Over the last 11 months, our businesses have made significant sacrifices to protect the public and fight a rising tide of unemployment. Our lawmakers now have the responsibility to enact policies to protect them from any undue burdens as they recover.  While federal relief has provided short-term stabilization, more action is needed from the General Assembly.

COVID liability protections are a critical starting point to ensure litigation and legal fees do not bring businesses down as they approach recovery. In addition, we must protect employers from any form of tax increase. On this front, employers face two major threats. First, an increase in unemployment insurance taxes, brought on by the exhaustion of our UI trust fund. Second, businesses that received PPP loans and have since had them forgiven face an increased tax burden because state rules prohibit them from accessing expense deductions to which they would normally be entitled.

These are challenges that lawmakers can solve by restoring the UI trust fund to full health and changing state law to allow businesses to deduct expenses paid with forgiven PPP loans.

These measures are just a start. Lawmakers must also stabilize our childcare sector. This vital industry has been in crisis for much of the pandemic, which severely threatens workforce participation, particularly for female workers who have been especially hard hit by limited access to childcare services. Lawmakers must also do everything they can to support our tourism and hospitality sectors through funding measures when possible and additional regulatory relief, such as allowing permanent cocktails to-go.

In addition, the rollout of the vaccine is of the utmost importance. Ultimately, immunity through vaccinations is the only true path forward out of this pandemic. Lawmakers and Governor Andy Beshear’s office must work more closely than ever on this critical initiative and fully support each other to effectively and efficiently get Kentuckians vaccinated.

Creating a stronger economy and state also requires us to address areas we have previously fallen short. For our state, that requires identifying and eradicating systemic inequalities in our laws, institutions and social norms. The pandemic has only exacerbated these problems, and we cannot continue placing them on the backburner.

Any policies enacted must support, empower and lift up anyone who has been historically left out. Reforming our criminal justice system which has had a disproportionate impact on Black Kentuckians is a must, but there is much more. Supporting Black Kentuckians means equitable access to opportunity.

At GLI, we have taken important steps to unite the business community toward the common goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive region and regional economy. We are rolling out several initiatives, like the Career Acceleration Network and Minority Business Accelerator, that will work in tandem with existing resources to ensure people of all races have equal opportunities to succeed and build wealth. We are also continuing to work with the Business Council to End Racism to identify and eradicate racism within our systems and institutions.

Lawmakers can support this work by ensuring equitable access to high-quality education and workforce training, adequately funding public transportation, closely studying legislative and regulatory proposals to prevent policy from disproportionately impacting different racial groups, and incentivizing investment and inclusive economic growth in historically underinvested areas of our community.

The General Assembly has two paths to choose from — 2021 can be a year of putting out the fires of 2020 and returning to the status quo, or it can be a turning point toward a more innovative, inclusive, and prosperous Commonwealth. The greater Louisville business community urges our lawmakers to choose the latter and commit to enacting forward-thinking and impactful policy solutions that will help our state and region outpace surrounding states and propel us towards future success.