By Gov. Andy Beshear
This week the string of positive economic news continued in the commonwealth. Kentucky’s sales tax receipts from April hit $486.5 million and our vehicle usage tax receipts hit over $64 million. These are the highest ever reported in the history of the commonwealth and they are generated solely from economic activity.
Fitch Ratings – one of the nation’s Big 3 credit rating agencies – also boosted its view of Kentucky’s financial outlook because of our “solid economic recovery” and fiscal management, which included delivering two balanced budgets and building the state’s largest-ever rainy day fund balance despite the pressures posed by the pandemic.
These successes would stand out at any time, but they’re particularly notable as some partisan politicians claim I need to “reopen Kentucky.”
Our economy is heating up. We are doing it right – safely and sustainably.
Galatians 6:9 states: “So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.”
That’s why we’re picking up economic momentum without putting our people at risk. We are lifting more restrictions each month as we get more folks vaccinated, open our schools and protect our neighbors from this virus that has already killed more than 6,500 Kentuckians.
Fitch Ratings noted Kentucky’s employment recovery through March is running ahead of the national pace. The report also indicated significant progress in addressing the state’s pension contribution shortfalls and making full actuarial contributions for all systems.
Last month, Site Selection magazine – an industry publication – validated our hard work, ranking Kentucky at the very top of the South Central region and third nationally for 2020 economic development projects.
Even during the pandemic, we announced 270 economic development projects that will create more than 8,000 new jobs. The average pay for those jobs is one of the highest in years. We supported our rural communities with more than $124 million in investment, for 160 projects that are helping to diversify regional economies. And we continue to announce more jobs throughout the commonwealth.
We are also preparing to create more than 14,500 new jobs through a bipartisan agreement between my administration and lawmakers this year. Nearly $1.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds will be used to boost the state’s economy by expanding broadband, delivering clean drinking water and building new schools.
But you wouldn’t know this if you listened to partisan politicians worried more about the next election than saving lives. This isn’t the time for politics.
Here’s the truth: in managing the pandemic we have fewer deaths per capita than just about every state in our country. Our cases are lower in many ways than just about every state in the country. We are leading nearly every one of our neighboring states in getting people vaccinated. Our economy is taking off better than just about every state in the country and we just held the largest sporting event since the pandemic started. And ever since vaccinations reached a high enough level, we have been beginning to safely ease restrictions. All segments of our economy have been open for months and most are almost completely open.
On March 1, after about 700,000 Kentuckians had been vaccinated, we increased capacity to 60% in most sectors. Two weeks later, we announced child care facilities could return to traditional classroom group sizes.
The first week of April, all Kentuckians 16 and older became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, and we continue to ease more restrictions.
When more than 1.6 million Kentuckians had been vaccinated, we shortened and simplified the Healthy at Work minimum requirements list. When more than 1.7 million Kentuckians had been vaccinated, we lifted the statewide mask mandate for outdoor events or venues with 1,000 people or fewer.
And Thursday, after more than 1.8 million Kentuckians had rolled up their sleeves to get the COVID-19 vaccine, I announced that starting May 28, all events – indoor and outdoor – with under 1,000 people, as well as businesses that cater to fewer than 1,000 people, can open to 75% capacity.
This includes retail, hair salons, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms. It includes wedding and memorial service venues, as well as other event spaces like concert halls.
In addition, starting on May 28, indoor and outdoor events with more than 1,000 people can be held at 60% capacity.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now projecting a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases by July. I’m hoping and expecting we will be fully done with all capacity restrictions by that time.
We have come so far but we do have to finish our work and protect the people around us, especially our kids, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine if they’re under 16.
So, Kentuckians: know our state is open, our economy is beginning to roar and others are taking notice. All while we have sacrificed to make sure more of our loved ones survive this deadly pandemic.
As Team Kentucky, let’s do what it takes to end it.
We’re going to win. We’re going to get back to our lives. We’re going to process the grief we’ve been through. But then buckle up, because our economy is ready to soar.