Kentucky editorial roundup
Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
Lexington Herald-Leader on the University of Kentucky’s sexual misconduct regulations:
Six years before #MeToo took off, college campuses woke to an Obama administration crackdown on sexual violence and harassment.
The obligation to be certain of a sexual partner’s consent is now etched on the average college student’s consciousness — and conscience — like never before. That is an irrefutable good.
Could that progress be wiped out, as some fear, by the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era directives, at a time when the White House is occupied by a man who boasted of grabbing unsuspecting women by the, well, you know?
The University of Kentucky will be a test case.
UK was a year into revising rules on sexual misconduct — from revenge porn to rape — when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos scrapped Obama era guidance.
UK’s new regulation is one of the first influenced by Devos’ advice.
One Devos-permitted change that UK President Eli Capilouto chose to adopt denies accusers the right to appeal an unfavorable ruling in a disciplinary case. Before, both parties were guaranteed the right to appeal.
Some experts say that change violates legal mandates for an equitable process, one in which both sides have the same rights, and could spark a court challenge. Advocates say it satisfies federal law by strengthening fair treatment for all or due process. Stay tuned.
UK rejected the most controversial change allowed by DeVos: changing the standard of proof from a preponderance of evidence to the more rigorous clear and convincing evidence.
Capilouto accepted a committee’s recommendation to keep the “preponderance” (more than a 50 percent certainty) standard. At UK, a three-person panel, with a law professor or retired judge presiding, hears evidence and rules. Under the new reg, a less than unanimous decision exonerates the accused.
More concerning than the legal particulars is the possibility that administrators will be emboldened to again sweep sexual misconduct under the rug and victims will be abandoned.
UK students seeking help far outnumber those seeking hearings, as Linda Blackford reported. Of 159 sexual misconduct complaints last year, fewer than five went to a hearing. The year before there were 153 complaints and six hearings — on a campus of 30,000 students. Complaints also are lodged by observers who are required to report suspected sexual abuse.
Most students who turn to UK’s Title IX office or Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center are not out to punish anyone, they just want the offending conduct to stop. UK provides them options, including changing dorms and schedules, campus protective orders, help making up class work or extending deadlines.
UK has invested a lot of resources in building these supports; it’s hard to see them going away without a protest — especially when the need is so great. UK student surveys report many more sexual assaults than the number of formal complaints.
Now there are fears that changes in the complaint process — magnified by the Trump crew’s extreme rhetoric and victim blaming — will have a chilling effect, that even fewer students will come forward to seek safety. UK should monitor the effects and make sure that does not happen.
The Daily Independent of Ashland on the progress of providing high-speed broadband internet to rural areas in Kentucky:
The prospects of providing high speed broadband Internet to rural areas in Eastern Kentucky were detailed recently in an update provided to the Greenup County Fiscal Court.
(...) The goal for completion of installation of fiber optic broadband connectivity infrastructure in the county is next summer. Holly Hopkins Scoville, manager of Government and Resident Relations for the KentuckyWired Project, said the last day of work in the area per contract is July 2020, but the goal is to be done with work nearly a year earlier.
That’s certainly good news. This entire KentuckyWired project is an incredibly complex issue, though, and it is a very important one to both the taxpayer and the state’s long-term interests. We see both good and bad in the project. First the good.
If all parts of Kentucky are going to grow and prosper, there needs to be this type of infrastructure in place. One of the reasons rural areas are now lagging far behind municipalities across the nation is this very issue. A huge chunk of our future in job growth and the development of business is found in technology. The communities with the most advanced technology will have the best chance at success. Those that don’t have it will fall further behind.
It is important to note this also applies to diverse sectors of the economy including government, health care and very importantly for this region, education. High speed broadband is a very important part of education. Teaching kids technology requires technology. Sounds simplistic but it is very true. This project is well intentioned and it is smart over the long haul to make these services available to all.
Here’s the bad: the cost. This project is costing the taxpayer a lot of money and the costs keep rising. KentuckyWired’s fate wobbled in the most recent session of the General Assembly when significant cost overruns rightly caused alarm bells to go off. The project is now moving forward but we are once again reminded that public-private partnerships, in our view at least, rarely fall within projected cost guidelines. Does that mean we are against them? Of course not. Public-private partnerships are an important part of development. But the idea that the cost projections of this project were so far off is beyond concerning.
Another problem we see here is that even when the infrastructure is in place there is no guarantee that many of our residents will be able to access it. Asked by The Daily Independent if the project meant every resident in Greenup, Carter and Boyd counties could connect to the services, Hopkins Scoville said:
“This is a middle mile,” she said. “Unless you have an ISP provider that attaches to this and brings fiber to the business and every home there, this is just a middle mile coming through your property. I can tell you right now there are numerous ways this is being handled. Fayette County is actually doing their own...running fiber to every business and home in Fayette County. The city of London...they bought additional fiber, they are actually going to their industrial parks right now with thoughts of expanding out into the city and into the county. ”
Translation — it seems to us the taxpayer is going to have to spend more money to take advantage of this infrastructure. Certainly on the local level our governments are already spread thin. The idea that cities and counties are going to be able to make significant investments in connection is dubious, at least in this region. Hopefully the private sector is able to help realize the benefits of KentuckyWired, but the cost of this project, already in the hundreds of millions, should have at least come with some sort of plan out of the gate to make sure — without question — that all will benefit from the infrastructure, or at least have the opportunity to do so. We are not convinced right now this is the case.
In the long run we are optimistic this project will be of great benefit to the citizenry of the Commonwealth. It certainly needs to be given the staggering costs. We believe it is the right thing to do. Getting to the finish line, though, in regards to Eastern Kentucky, certainly has many challenges ahead and all of the questions surrounding this are more than justified.
The Paducah Sun criticizes the notion that Kentucky could tax its pension problems away:
Gov. Matt Bevin hosted a town hall meeting last week in Murray. It is not surprising that his audience of about 100 people included teachers and others on the state payroll.
The discussion turned to the state’s teetering public employee pension funds. What we find striking about the conversation is the magical thinking that exists in some quarters believing Kentucky can simply further raise taxes, keep the system we have, and everything will be fine.
One attendee who teaches at Murray State University recited the new liberal mantra that tax credits and other incentives Kentucky provides to corporate citizens are “expenditures” just as money used to build roads or pay for worker benefits. Taken to its logical conclusion this view says that every penny that falls through to the corporate bottom line is rightfully the government’s. To the extent government does not seize this money, that’s an “expenditure.”
The professor used this premise to suggest that “if we could get 30 percent of that money back, 20 percent of that money back, then all of a sudden we have 20 to 30 percent more revenue coming into the state.”
The problem with this view is that many of these credits exist as incentives for corporations to increase their investments in the state. There are exemptions and credits for instance for purchases of new equipment used in manufacturing and production.
Such investments are desirable for two reasons. One is that they often involve expansions, which means more jobs and associated tax revenue. The second is that they increase productivity per worker. Historically rising private sector wages do not occur absent productivity gains.
Bevin pointed out a second flaw in the idea of eliminating these credits. It is that capital is mobile. Surrounding states, notably Tennessee and Indiana, already treat corporate citizens more favorably than Kentucky with their own credits and incentives. The results are apparent.
“Go just a little bit east of here, go down to the Fort Campbell community and look at the border (with Tennessee). Look at the activity on our side of the border versus the other . Look at the number of warehouses that are literally on that side of the border and not on ours,” Bevin said.
Regional economic development officials have lamented this reality for generations. As Bevin told his audience, “capital goes where it is welcome.” Raising corporate levies by 20 to 30 percent by “closing loopholes” will not result in 20 to 30 percent more revenue. Rather, it will bleed tax revenue as corporations move to friendlier locales, taking not only their tax contributions but those of their workers with them.
More broadly, this is the reason we have been so concerned about the state’s pension debacle these past few years. The idea Kentucky can just tax its way out of this mess is fantasy.
As Bevin said at the town hall, the pension fund covering most state workers other than teachers is down to $1.9 billion, or about 16 percent of what it owes. Frighteningly Bevin says the fund paid out $1 billion in benefits last year but only brought in several hundred-million.
“So play that out,” he said. “We only have three to five years before that’s all gone.”
Bevin made a brave try politically not so much to save the pension funds as to buy them more time. But he has been stymied by Republicans and Democrats alike. The consequences are just a few years away now, and they won’t be pretty.