- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

Jan. 12

Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader on state legislature should increase minimum wage:

If there is one point of unquestioned agreement between liberals and conservatives, it is the value of work.

As a nation, we value this so much that we have a national holiday, Labor Day, to celebrate work, and we have a federal tax policy - the Earned Income Tax Credit - to reward workers even when they make poverty-level wages.

Why not honor work with better wages?

That’s the point of raising the minimum wage.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has proposed an increase in Kentucky’s minimum wage, at $7.25 since 2009, to $10.10 over three years. That would mean that a person working full-time, year-round would earn $20,200 before taxes and deductions.

It’s not a luxurious living, but it is an affirmation of the value of labor and laborers that the Kentucky General Assembly should adopt.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage generally rely on two arguments: It will cause employers to cut jobs because of increased costs and it will have little impact on struggling families because most minimum-wage workers are middle-class teenagers earning spending money.

There is virtually no research to support the first contention, despite hundreds of studies since the first federal minimum wage (25 cents an hour) went into effect in 1938.

Some studies show slight job losses; some show gains as more money moves into the economy with wage increases. There is virtually no evidence of significant or enduring negative impact on employment in the 75 years since minimum wages have been in effect in this country.

It is also worth mentioning that low-income workers spend money carefully.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that families receiving public assistance spend about 75 percent of their income on essentials: food, housing and transportation. And they spend more of their food dollars on meals eaten at home than do wealthier families.

Politicians talk about the importance of creating more high-wage jobs in Kentucky. But the reality right now is that the only jobs for many hardworking Kentuckians are in low-wage industries.

It’s right to honor their work with a higher minimum wage.




Jan. 12

The Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky., on farmers deserved full payments from the tobacco buyout:

U.S. Sen Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a key player in the 2004 historic tobacco buyout that ended the longstanding government price-support system.

The buyout established the U.S. Department of Agriculture TTPP to provide quota holders with a final opportunity to get annual transaction payments from 2005-14 in exchange for the termination of all restrictions, marketing cards and price support loans for tobacco. Under the program, $10 billion was to be paid annually over 10 years to compensate tobacco farmers who lost the quotas under the system. The money was to help farmers transition to other crops.

Last year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that tobacco buyout payments would be subject to a 7.2 percent sequestration this year - the final year of tobacco buyout payments.

This isn’t fair to tobacco farmers in any tobacco growing state.

Thankfully, McConnell intervened and contacted Vilsack and Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell and identified a provision with the Budget Control Act that would allow quota holders to receive full payment.

McConnell’s efforts paid off and the USDA has agreed to provide farmers with the full payment in two installments, half in January and the balance in October.

Farmers will receive the full amount of their final payment by the end of fiscal year 2015.

If Vilsack had his way, it would have cost 100,000 Kentucky farmers and quota holders who chose the yearly installments about $12 million. Banks that bought shares of the annual payouts from farmers who took lump sum payments stood to lose about $5.4 million if the payments were cut.

Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney made a good point when he said: “The full payment of these funds should never have been in question, but full payment with a partial deferral is far better than a 7.2 percent sequestration.”

Haney said families can now get back to focusing on their fields instead of their finances.

These farmers deserved their full payments, and we commend McConnell on his tireless efforts in making that happen.




Jan. 10

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., on no surrender in poverty war:

It’s been 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson visited the rough-hewn front porch of an unemployed sawmill operator in Eastern Kentucky, resulting in the iconic photograph that would come to symbolize his signature “War on Poverty.”

Sitting beside Tom Fletcher, the president listened as Mr. Fletcher described high unemployment, few jobs and deep poverty in Martin County, conditions Mr. Johnson set about to change nationwide.

The War on Poverty would usher in a host of social programs - Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps - programs that would dramatically improve the health and welfare of those in extreme poverty, including many in tiny Inez, Ky., the site of President Johnson’s visit.

Fifty years later, the overriding question is: Did we win?

Of course not, if the definition of victory is complete eradication of poverty.

But it is clear that Kentucky and the nation have made enormous strides in the ensuing years, even amid shifting employment patterns, vast economic changes and a widening gap between the tiny fraction of very rich Americans and the many more working poor.

Rather than wonder if we’ve won the war, the real question is whether we have won key battles as we face an ever-shifting economic landscape.

The answer to that clearly is yes.

In 1964, the national poverty rate was 19 percent and in Martin County, a stunning 60 percent. In Kentucky, the poverty rate prior to 1964 was about 38 percent, according to some of the earliest available federal statistics.

Today, the national rate is 15.9 percent, in Kentucky it is 19.3 percent and in Martin County, 35 percent.

Poverty remains stubbornly persistent in this state, particularly in Eastern Kentucky, but that’s no cause for surrender.



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