A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand December 20, 2016

A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand December 20, 2016

During the holidays, most of us probably don’t give much thought to the origin of the traditions common during this time of year. We put up Christmas trees, take our children to see Santa and sing carols because that’s what we’ve done for generations.
It wasn’t always that way, of course, but you have to go back centuries to find when many of these traditions began. Christmas carols, for example, were first sung in the fourth century, while those in English began appearing in the 1400s. The decorated Christmas tree came a short time later, with some historians saying it celebrated a landmark anniversary in 2010, 500 years after getting its start in Northern Europe.
St. Nicholas has a long history as well. He was born into a wealthy family during the third century, but an epidemic claimed his parents while he was still young. A devout Christian, he used all of his inheritance to help the needy and sick, truly fulfilling the meaning of the season.
In Kentucky’s early history, Christmas was not always celebrated on Dec. 25th, but Jan. 6th instead. That day marked the religious feast of the Magi, the wise men who had traveled to Bethlehem, and it eventually became known as Old Christmas.
Christmas was also festive in more ways than one during that era, since many received guns that day as gifts. As such, it was often one of the busiest days of the year for hunting.
As we reach the end of 2016, it’s worth noting that Kentucky has been blessed with many “presents” over the past year.
Economically, the commonwealth saw its labor force grow faster in October than it has in at least 40 years, while our exports are nearing $30 billion annually and are on track for another record year, even as the country’s overall exports are in decline. Our success is not a fluke, either; in inflation-adjusted dollars, the value of our exports has grown 60 percent since 2009.
We’re seeing generally positive trends in other industries as well. In May, state officials announced that tourism increased five percent in 2015, the biggest jump we’ve seen in a decade.
In March, Site Selection magazine announced – for the second year in a row – that no state had more major economic development announcements per person than Kentucky did. To qualify, a project has to meet or exceed at least one of three criteria: $1 million in capital investment, 20,000 square feet of new space or 20 new jobs. In 2014 and 2015, we averaged five of those every week.
This economic growth is helping the state meet its budgetary goals. General Fund revenues last fiscal year, which ended June 30th, topped $10 billion for the first time and were nearly four percent higher than the previous fiscal year. That’s more than double the growth states across the country saw overall.
In agriculture, economists at the University of Kentucky are saying that value of farm commodities this year is $5.4 billion. That’s down significantly from a record high set in 2014, but that decline is less pronounced than what farmers are seeing nationwide. It’s also worth noting that the value of Kentucky’s crops and livestock is still about $1 billion greater than it was just five years ago.
Academically, there is good news in the classroom – and in the way the schools themselves are being run.
In July, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence issued a report showing that we are making great strides at closing academic gaps for low-income students. In fact, the graduation rate for those students is higher than it is for all students nationally, something only five other states can claim.
At the postsecondary level, our colleges and universities set another record last school year by awarding almost 66,000 degrees and credentials. That’s up a third from what they awarded a decade ago.
Just last week, meanwhile, state officials said that 13 more schools had received an ENERGY STAR certification, which is given to those facilities that are among the most energy efficient in the nation. More than 300 schools across the commonwealth now have this designation, including the first two in the county that were built to be energy-neutral over a calendar year.
These are just a few of the positive things happening across the commonwealth. Locally, many in our community deserve recognition for their contributions, from ringing the bell on behalf of the Salvation Army to donating food and clothing to those in need. Helping others is a year-round responsibility, but we always seem to find a way to dig a little deeper around this time of year.
As we prepare to count our own presents and blessings this coming weekend, let me end by saying that my family and I hope you and your family have a merry Christmas and that 2017 is your best year yet.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer