FRANKFORT – As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this week, my hope is that everyone will take a moment not just to count their presents, but also to count their blessings.
There is good news for all of Kentucky as we look back over the past 12 months.
Before he left office, Governor Beshear announced that we had already broken the record for the most investment by new and expanding companies by a large margin. That looks even better when considering that we led the states last year on average in this category.
In November, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet said Kentucky’s businesses set another record when it comes to workplace safety. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor show that our rate of 3.8 reports of injuries/illnesses per 100 full-time workers is the lowest since this figure was first compiled in 1996. That year, by the way, Kentucky’s incident rate was 8.4, showing that we have cut workplace injuries and illnesses by more than half over the past two decades.
In one final bit of economic good news, state officials announced this past summer that a 2010 plan to pay back a nearly $1 billion federal loan to cover unemployment benefits during the recession cleared the ledger two years earlier than projected.
Getting out of the red so quickly will help businesses next year by saving them an average of $105 per employee on federal unemployment taxes, about $165 million overall.
All of these gains are making it easier for the state to meet its budgetary needs. Following years of cuts, last fiscal year ended with a sizeable surplus, and our “Rainy Day” savings account is the largest it has been since 2008.
On Wednesday last week, the state economists who by law determine the budget’s size said revenues are again outpacing projections this fiscal year. That will definitely help us address some pressing needs when the General Assembly finalizes the next two-year budget in the spring.
In education, Kentucky received good news this past summer when the consumer-finance website Wallethub.com – used by such organizations as USA Today – said we had the fifth-best public school system in the nation. Among our surrounding states, Illinois and Virginia were closest at 10th and 11th best, while Tennessee came in at 26th.
Our school facilities themselves hit a high-water mark this month when officials announced that we now have 300 meeting the strict ENERGY-STAR guidelines. Only one other state has a greater percentage of schools with this designation, and it’s worth pointing out that we built the country’s first that was designed to be energy-neutral over a calendar year.
At the postsecondary level, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) reported this month that its schools awarded a record number of associate degrees in 2014-15. KCTCS is closing in on 10,000 annually, which is triple the number of associate degrees students received in 2000. What makes this news even better is that the schools are doing this during a “down” cycle due to the improving economy.
Since this season is a time of giving, I want to take a moment to highlight the work of Kentucky State Police, which said last week that its sixth-annual “Cram the Cruiser” food drive brought in almost 250,000 pounds of food for Kentucky families in need. The total donated over the program’s lifetime should cross one million pounds sometime next year.
That kind of charity is symbolic of what is going on in our communities across the commonwealth. I think we do a great job of looking out for each other around the year, but there is no doubt that our giving rises to a new level around the holidays. That’s another blessing we can count on.
As we look forward to spending the next few days with family and friends, I hope this week – and all of 2016 – is everything you hope.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.