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Kentucky editorial roundup

March 20, 2019

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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March 17

The Paducah Sun criticizes education officials’ leadership amid scandal:

The classic Rudyard Kipling poem “If” comes to mind when considering the controversy — scandal is another word for it — that has consumed the McCracken County School District much of this year.

The line that particularly resonates, one district leaders ought to study given their stumbles in crisis management until recently: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs .”

That, of course, wasn’t the concise, united approach district administrators and board members chose in handling the ongoing troubles that have cascaded since mid-January. Instead, the public has been left with the impression leaders mostly buried their heads, hiding from the problem, hoping it would go away.

It didn’t, then it reached critical mass.

The district has been under law enforcement and public scrutiny from misconduct allegations against two McCracken County High School staff members and a student ...

Troubles deepened Friday when Kentucky State Police confirmed a district official is being investigated for potential misuse of a school vehicle. A name wasn’t released.

Superintendent Brian Harper resigned last week after less than two years on the job. The school board hosted an emergency meeting to accept Harper’s resignation, then adjourned without having an interim replacement ready to step in.

Members eventually turned to Assistant Superintendent Heath Cartwright, who will serve as interim until he retires June 30.

When the misconduct allegations surfaced, communication to parents and the media — which could have been used strategically as a conduit to the community — was limited, parsed out in scattered snippets, if at all. The district’s silence was deafening, its inability to adapt spanning from administrators to the school board to the public spokeswoman.

In a Facebook comment, School Board Chairman Steve Shelby didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of what was happening, badly misreading the landscape when he implied the controversy was a byproduct of the media that “continues to ride this story as hard as possible.”

To be fair, district officials were dealt a difficult hand with the rash of alleged incidents. Nonetheless, the mess was theirs to clean up, as serious and real-time as a natural disaster. But when a leader was needed to own not only the problems but the solutions, no one was to be found.

Thankfully, Cartwright has taken some steps in the right direction. After he was named interim superintendent, he emailed school district parents: “Please know that I understand that the 7,000 students that attend school in this district are YOUR children. It is with great sincerity that I say to you that we will stop at nothing to treat each and every student the way we would expect our own children to be treated.”

He wrote again days later, this time informing parents of a new interim principal at the high school. He opened that letter with a refreshing, and for the school district, new, approach: “I want to do what I can to keep you informed of the important issues going on in our school district.”

The district’s problems have been, frankly, an embarrassment, though it should be noted, not representative of the majority of teachers and staffers who work diligently every day on behalf of local students. Unfortunately, few have sullied many, and we’re still possibly months away from any sort of resolution.

Until then, we hope Cartwright remains transparent, learning from the myriad mistakes of his predecessor and colleagues.

Online: https://www.paducahsun.com/

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March 17

The Daily Independent of Ashland on a change in how some banks are taxed:

The difficult choices resulting from a broken revenue and taxation system were on display this week in Frankfort.

Those choices were evident in the need for House Bill 354, which let banks with a Kentucky charter pay corporate income taxes instead of a bank franchise tax. The latter is a complex formula that is based on how much capital a bank has. The banking industry has been asking for the change for years, The Associated Press reported. The proposal would cost the state $56 million a year beginning in 2021. It would not affect big banks headquartered out of state but instead those that maintain a Kentucky charter. Lawmakers and industry advocates say they hope the change will stop the trend of local banks selling to out-of-state buyers, who then move the capital to other states to avoid the tax, the AP reported.

Since 2000, Kentucky has lost at least 56 state-chartered banks, leaving 124 still operating, according to the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions’ annual reports.

This change via 354 is the correct decision. It would be easy to portray this as another tax break for big companies and big banks, but that does not appear correct to us. It is instead a movement to protect Kentucky banks — one of the state’s largest employers. The financial services industry is very important to our local economies, and often times locally owned banks are the biggest economic drivers in a multitude of ways. This includes employing people, making loans and facilitating commerce. If the state of Kentucky can take steps to improve Kentucky’s business climate through either lower taxes or a less complex tax code, this is good. The simpler the better. The lower the tax rate, the better.

We know from recent events in America that states with high tax rates, and overly burdensome tax codes, are losing people. Kentucky wants to be known as a low tax, and a less is more when it comes to government, type of state. House Bill 354 takes a step in this direction.

There is however another decision that came out of House Bill 354 that we also applaud. The state rolled back the bizarre, misguided taxing structure that hit nonprofits hard on sales taxes during the General Assembly’s prior work on tax reform. Again, the prior tax reform attempts were well intentioned but the idea of taxing nonprofits like your local YMCA membership or bake sales to benefit a domestic violence shelter are, of course, not what the state of Kentucky needs. It was the right decision to fix this.

All of these steps in our view point to the need for a simplified tax code that is in line with southern states that do everything possible to keep taxes low. We know without question that high taxes drive residents, business and commerce away. This is an undisputed fact, and Kentucky cannot afford to lose a chunk of its population because the tax burden in the state becomes too high. We also know that the state faces an ominous unfunded pension obligation that is only getting worse. Thus we can say with relative certainty that solving the pension crisis is going to one day result in tax increases at some point — likely significant ones. Add in the fact that the state’s infrastructure and roadways are in dramatic need of funding — and that there is a lot of people pushing for raising the gas tax — and you get the picture. A raise your taxes storm is brewing on the horizon.

The General Assembly needs to hold the line on taxes as much as possible while meeting its obligations. Yes, we may be simpletons, but when it comes to state government, fix the pensions, then make do with what you’ve got.

This is our belief on how the state should approach funding state government.

Online: https://www.dailyindependent.com/

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March 17

Bowling Green Daily News commends an elections bill both on substance and bipartisanship:

It’s getting rarer and rarer with each passing year to see bipartisanship in politics, and that is a real shame.

Nearly gone are the days when lawmakers from different parties crossed the aisle and actually worked through their differences - not for the betterment of their own party, but for the betterment of the people who elected them.

Since bipartisanship is so rare these days, when we do see it, it is important to recognize it and applaud those who are working across the aisle on legislation.

House Bill 522 - sponsored by House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican, and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat - would set up an automatic recount if a legislative election’s margin is within 0.5 percent. The measure passed the House last week but now sits in a Senate committee, with time nearly expired on the 2019 General Assembly session.

The measure setting up the new process to handle election challenges is a response to Democrat Jim Glenn’s initial one-vote victory over Republican DJ Johnson in last year’s election in an Owensboro state House district. The State Board of Elections certified Glenn as the winner. Johnson then asked the GOP-dominated House for a recount, relying on a rarely used state law that lets legislative candidates contest election results. When Johnson contested the election, the House appointed six Republicans and three Democrats - all chosen by random drawing - to an Election Contest Board to oversee the process. That recount found nine additional votes - five for Johnson and four for Glenn - giving each candidate 6,323 votes.

At the time, Democrats criticized the process as overly partisan, and Glenn’s lawyer had asked the state’s Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear, to investigate.

All of that went away when Johnson withdrew his challenge, keeping Glenn in the state legislature, but the dispute was a distraction for the House during the early days of this year’s legislative session. It was a huge distraction. We wrote in an earlier editorial that we believed that Johnson should’ve accepted defeat and moved on with his life after the initial recount by the Daviess County Election Board upheld Glenn’s one-vote margin.

We’re glad Osborne and Adkins were concerned enough about the distraction that it did cause in the early days of an already short 30-day session of the legislature for this year to work together to improve the process. ...

Under their bill, after the recount, a candidate still contesting the election could take his or her concerns to court. The automatic recount also would apply to statewide constitutional races and Kentucky’s contests for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

This legislation would rightfully take the politics out of razor-thin elections. It’s a good piece of legislation that allows someone who is contesting a close election to have a recount and if they are not happy with the results they can take it to court, which is where we believe the proper venue is.

We urge members of the Senate to pass this much-needed legislation before the session gavels to a close.

Online: https://www.bgdailynews.com/