Q&A with Scott Ritcher
Scott's responses to candidate questionnaires and your letters and emails
Candidate Questionnaire from Greater Louisville, Inc., The Metro Chamber of Commerce
Please explain your qualifications for this office, citing any and all relevant private and public sector experience.
So many members of our General Assembly have legitimate "qualifications" that are unfortunately diluted by their willingness to collect special interest and corporate-derived contributions. They have the "experience" of meeting Kentuckians during campaigns but their Frankfort offices are then swarmed by private lobbyists who outnumber them by five-to-one. Perhaps what qualifies me most is my refusal to accept any campaign contributions from corporate or special interest PACs, and my belief that paid lobbying should be completely eliminated. My campaign is supported only by individual voters and volunteers. I answer only to the voters.
I live modestly, work hard, and still struggle to pay my rent. The real life problems Kentuckians face every day are my problems, too. Obviously, I know there are many people who work much harder than I do and face greater challenges. My life seems comfortable in comparison to those struggles and that’s why I feel I have an obligation to do something to help other people. Kentuckians aren’t getting the help they need or even a reasonable level of responsiveness from Frankfort.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel and meet people in other places of the world where they have other ways of doing things. Serious problems like homelessness, poverty, education, and health care have been substantially addressed in other countries and yet none of those approaches have been introduced or attempted here. So I have the experience of not just being a Kentuckian, but also the perspective of possibilities from studying what works in other places. We really need to re-imagine what Kentucky is capable of and I believe I can help paint that picture.
Decades of electing "qualified" candidates and tolerating the corruptive influences of corporations have delivered Kentucky and the United States to the bottom of giant holes of debt and poverty. We can do much better than this and we owe it to ourselves to try harder and to try something different.
What would be your top priorities for the 2009 and 2010 General Assembly sessions?
My top priorities are such no-brainers that it’s absurd for me to have to stand up and say them out loud. Compared to pace at which our part-time legislature likes to work, even these simple, common-sense objectives that Kentuckians have demanded for decades seem downright ambitious. In fact, every single objective below has either never been introduced or has been blocked in the Kentucky Legislature.
Ensure that everyone in Kentucky has sufficient food, housing, and medical care. Our state has more resources than many countries where they take better care of each other.
Mandate a living wage that updates automatically based on the real cost of living.
Replace the complex state income tax system with a simple and fair process that taxes everyone at the same rate and doesn’t require calculations by taxpayers. Exempt those not earning a substantial living wage.
Revise elections to include voter-verifiable hard copies and allow voting from any location.
Limit the influence of big money in politics by creating clean campaigns, district-limited fundraising, voter-initiated ballot referenda, and eliminating paid lobbying.
End corporate welfare and taxpayer assistance to profitable companies.
Protect consumers through the elimination of excessive, predatory banking fees and the introduction of no-fault automobile insurance.
Create jobs through unprecedented new investment in education, public transportation, and renewable energy.
Separation of church and state as the law. Religious organizations that participate in public debate, advocate political views, make use of the airwaves, or host political functions must be taxed at the same rate as everyone else.
What actions would you take to improve Kentucky’s climate for business?
The number one thing we can do is remove the burden of health care from our business owners by creating a statewide health care safety net. Providing a basic level of coverage for every Kentuckian would give our state a competitive edge and attract new families, businesses, and taxpayers.
Without the need to provide expensive insurance for workers and families, businesses would be free to cut costs, increase wages, reinvest, and offer additional incentives to employees. Perhaps most importantly, it would dramatically improve the health and quality of life for those Kentuckians now living on the margins of survival. This would make Kentucky’s entire workforce healthier and more productive.
The simple fact is that Kentuckians are not healthy people when compared with the rest of the industrialized world and companies just do not want to invest in areas where the population is not healthy or able enough to work hard.
Kentuckians pay significantly more for health care than people in Norway, France, Switzerland, and other places known for superior levels of care. The reasons for this disparity are simple. So many people here are either uninsured or underinsured that no preventative health is practiced. Primary care conditions deteriorate when neglected until they become expensive emergency situations. People can’t afford basic care and easily manageable conditions rage out of control. Kentucky’s infant mortality rate is higher than that of Cuba, Lithuania, or Thailand. Furthermore, for those who do have coverage in Kentucky, the costs of that care enormous because it includes the costs of advertising, executive salaries, profits, denials of eligibility, and even the expense of hiring lobbyists to keep the pressure on our government to do nothing about it.
I believe access to health care and child care are necessities and rights, not "benefits." They are certainly not the responsibility of struggling business owners. Health and child care should be as universally available when needed as the fire department. Everyone needs them at some point and we should never think of sending someone a bill for something they can’t live without. Health care expenses are an enormous component of the embarrassing fact that one in six Kentuckians lives in poverty. Medical bankruptcy is a truly American disgrace that does not have to exist here and should not exist in a civil society.
What is your plan for increasing revenue for Kentucky? (For example, gaming, increasing the cigarette tax, increasing personal or corporate income taxes)
The state is obviously in need of revenue to meet its obligations and to provide vital services. Of course I’m in favor of increasing the cigarette tax to a rate on par with the rest of the nation and obviously gaming could be a huge source of revenue. It’s not like nobody in Kentucky is gambling. Let’s make it legal and keep those dollars in Kentucky instead of letting neighboring states rake in those revenues. But those cigarettes and gambling are relatively small parts of the revenue problems in Kentucky compared to the enormous effect that plugging some of the other existing gaps could do.
First, our state government has gotten into the business of providing tax breaks, handouts, and other incentives to corporations. These deals are often given to profitable companies in exchange for the promise that they’ll bring jobs to the state. When the incentives run out, these companies just pick up and move their jobs to another state where they can get greater millions in bonuses. Some even move to other countries where they can pay ethically abhorrent, unregulated rates for labor. We’ve seen it happen over and over. Kentucky cannot continue to play these games in which taxpayer money simply fattens the wallets of already-profitable corporations. Taxpayers do not pool their money with the intent of those funds being given away as handouts or subsidies for private businesses. We pay taxes to accomplish goals as a society which we are unable to achieve individually. Before we go about trying to increase revenue, the taxes we already pay need to be directed exclusively for the state services and infrastructure they are intended to provide.
Second, the rich and super rich in Kentucky are not paying their fair share of the tax burden. This is creating an absence of millions in state revenues. If every Kentuckian paid taxes at the same rate, the tax rate for most Kentuckians would be lower. Furthermore, this would increase revenue to the point where those not earning a substantial living wage could be exempted from paying any state taxes. Such a system would be fair to everybody and generate more revenue.
Third, we need to double, triple, or quadruple the coal severance tax. Currently, the coal corporations that destroy Kentucky’s landscapes and consume our workers pay the state only 4.5% of the value of the coal the remove from the ground. That’s practically nothing in exchange for what they’re taking from Kentucky. Our state is one of the top three places in the country to get coal, so it’s not as if coal companies will abandon our state if we have a higher tax rate on coal production. This is where the coal is and in order to get it out of the ground you have to pay our rate. We are giving these companies the right to come into our state and take our non-renewable resources out of the ground and leave. Now they are literally moving mountains to get at this filthy carbon-based energy. The coal severance fund is supposed to go back into the communities it comes from, but little of it finds its way there. With this money, coal mining communities should be the most beautiful places in Kentucky. They should have the best schools, the safest streets, and anything else they could possibly need. It should be painfully obvious that when the coal is gone so, too, will these employers be. If we have retained only 4.5% of the massive revenue this resource has generated and not invested it completely in our communities, infrastructure, mining safety, and social programs, we have allowed ourselves to be played for fools. But that’s what the coal companies expect us to do: bend over backwards for them and turn our heads when they pollute our state and more than a hundred miners are killed on the job here in just ten years.
What would you do to ensure Louisville gets its fair share of funding from Frankfort for transportation, education and other projects?
I think it’s important to say that I believe fair distribution of taxes doesn’t necessarily mean that what one pays into the system equals the amount that comes back. I feel that we have an obligation to provide for those who may not be able to provide for themselves, and to help those who may not be able to help themselves. A good deal of the Kentuckians who are in need of the most help do not live in Louisville, so the taxes generated by the comparative affluence of Louisville can be of great assistance for those in other areas. We may have to occasionally sacrifice some of the perks we expect from Frankfort in order to help lift all Kentuckians up to levels of comfort that the entire state can be proud of.
All that said, Louisville absolutely has unique needs compared with the rest of Kentucky and some of those needs are incredibly expensive. I would never hesitate to fight for any program or project I felt was important to the health, vitality, or progress of the city. Louisville is a beautiful gem and an American treasure. It is my home, and it is home to everyone who will vote for me. There is little more important to me than knowing that Louisville will advance into the future without losing everything we love about it today.
What would you do to ensure the Ohio River Bridges Project, including two bridges and the re-design of spaghetti junction, is fully funded and completed as quickly as possible? Do you support the creation of regional infrastructure authorities to manage the financing of the state’s mega-transportation projects?
These projects have taken so much time they have nearly outlived their relevance. Further expansion of automobile infrastructure as a solution for our transportation needs is not a solution at all. It’s a backward-looking proposition. Individuals driving gasoline-powered internal combustion automobiles as a community’s primary form of transportation is, at best, expensive and impersonal, and at worst, unsustainable. That said, the East End Bridge should have been built first and finished ten years ago. True leadership involves getting people to see the future and bringing them on board. We’ve had none of that on any of these projects.
At this point, though, we need to start looking at options that could serve as valid alternatives to the sinking of millions more taxpayer dollars into further expanding the capacity of our already bloated roads. The noise and pollution they generate and the shadows they cast are not part of what most people imagine as a place where they’d want to live, work, learn, or play. The tide has turned. 2008 is the first year in over thirty years in which driving has declined nationally. Nobody foresees gas going back down to $2.00. Quite simply, the cost of operating today’s automobiles will weed them out of many people’s daily lives long before tomorrow’s automobiles are truly affordable, if available at all. So it’s not hard to imagine that after several years of declining drivership our gigantic highways will look begin to like hilarious dinosaurs.
Louisville is already decades behind many smaller cities who have invested steadily in public transportation. These projects not only save money and energy, they also decrease noise, pollution, and the need for oversized highways. It’s about time for us to get with the program. No one is going to believe we’re the 16th biggest city in America if we continue to plan and build our infrastructure like we’re the 59th.
As education is critical to jobs and growth in our state, what would you do to ensure education remains a top priority and receives adequate funding?
Kentucky would have the greatest schools in the world if our students and teachers could afford the same teams of lobbyists that funnel our tax dollars into corporate subsidies.
I believe education is the single most important factor in determining the quality of our society as a whole. Crime, productivity, innovation, co-existence, personal responsibility, health, progress; they’re all related to the quality of education. It is imperative that we do everything we can to provide Kentucky’s teachers and students with the tools they need to excel, regardless of the cost. Investing more money and resources in schools today will save us vastly greater amounts of money and resources in the future.
Whether it means spreading the school year across the entire 12-month calendar or starting children in school a year earlier, any strategy that provides us with a better chance of revising and improving our schools should be considered. Education is just too important to be underfunded or to have its significance underestimated. I would never hesitate to give teachers the tools or facilities they need to better do their jobs. This would include significantly increasing their wages. We need to make teaching a lucrative and comfortable career choice in Kentucky if we want to attract serious teachers and families from across the country.
Kentucky currently ranks 34th nationally in teachers’ pay, 16th in student-teacher ratio, and 30th in what we spend per student. Even if we were in the top ten in all of those categories, our schools would still lag behind much of the industrialized world. Kentucky needs to commit itself to the goal of being recognized for having some of the best schools in the nation. We should settle for nothing less.
Candidate Questionnaire from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
Over the past few years, mountaintop removal coal mining and the related valley fills has become a widely debated public issue. What is your position on mountaintop removal coal mining and whether more should be done to protect Kentucky’s streams from mining impacts? What policies would you propose or support?
No other industry gets away with what coal does. More than 100 miners died on the job in Kentucky in just 10 years. No industry is more willing to sacrifice its workforce and their families for profit by denying them the basic care and safety that is mandated by common sense, common decency, and common ethics. The environmental impact of mining and burning coal only rival the neglect of workers as the worst part of this filthy, non-renewable fuel.
The truth is that there is a fixed amount of coal in the ground and Kentucky is one of the top three places to get it. When it’s gone, so too, will these employers. We are only screwing ourselves if we don't take full advantage of the opportunity to collect greater billions from coal’s removal. These dollars could dramatically improve the quality of life in Kentucky, especially for the hardworking people who make it possible through the backbreaking work mining requires.
It’s not like these companies are going to pack up and leave if we raise their rates. The free ride for coal companies must come to an end. They must be held accountable for their permanent impact on our landscapes and lives.
Currently, over 92% of Kentucky’s electricity comes from burning coal. Kentucky’s reliance on coal-fired power contributes to some of the lowest electric rates in the nation. However, Kentucky ranks near the top in the nation in carbon dioxide pollution per person (a major cause of global climate change) and in deaths related to pollution from coal-fired power plants. What is your vision for America’s and Kentucky’s energy future? What energy policies would you support or propose?
Sure it’s cheap, but you get what you pay for. The REAL price we’re paying for coal is seen not in its dollar value, but in its longterm consequences. The injuries and deaths of miners, the release of carbon and filthy pollution into the atmosphere, and the destruction of irreplaceable landscapes, are bills that come due later and are paid for by our children.
Therefore, the market price of coal needs to more closely reflect the true environmental humanitarian impact of its retrieval and consumption. The 4.5% rate mining companies pay for the coal they remove could be quadrupled and still be a steal. At a more reasonable 15%, the state would collect an extra half billion dollars a year and these corporations could still be enjoying record profits.
Kentucky needs be a leader in the inevitable shift to renewable clean energy. The manufacturing, distribution, and maintenance jobs associated with widespread implementation of new energy are all local. Getting people out of the mines and into the sun, and putting other people into new jobs building a new power infrastructure, can truly reinvent Kentucky and how people perceive it both here and beyond.
In 2005 the legislature made many changes to Kentucky’s tax code, including a provision that exempted 300,000 people living below the federal poverty line from paying state income taxes. Some lawmakers have proposed further tax relief for Kentucky families earning just above the federal poverty line arguing that Kentucky’s income tax bill on these families is the highest in the nation. Other lawmakers argue that the significant changes made in 2005 are adequate and families above the federal poverty line should not receive any special tax relief. What policies would you support or propose related to taxes paid by low-wage workers?
First, I think Kentucky needs to get with the program and enact a living wage bill. If a person works 40 hours a week, that should earn them enough money for sufficiently reasonable housing, utilities, transportation, food, and entertainment. Just like the salaries of our legislators, the living wage should update automatically based on changes in the cost of living. This is not an issue of economics, it’s an issue of morals. No civil society should expect workers to work for less than is a reasonable amount of money to comfortably survive. In a country as rich as the United States, there should be no such thing as "low-wage workers."
Second, I believe Kentucky’s tax system needs to be completely re-invented. I support a simple, fair system which taxes everyone at the same rate and does not require calculations by taxpayers. The new system should exempt those not earning a substantial living wage from paying state taxes. For most Kentuckians, the rate of taxation would be lower than what they are paying today, however, the gross revenue collected by the state would be much higher.
Third, as is the case in many other states, I believe the state sales tax should not be applied to necessities such as medications, utilities, clothing, unprepared (non-junk) food, and health-related items.
Numerous reports indicate that Kentucky lacks the funds necessary to keep our obligations to retired teachers and state employees, maintain affordable college tuition rates, and make progress towards goals in health and education. About 50 legislators and elected statewide officials have pledged to never raise taxes. They claim that keeping taxes low will generate additional economic activity, which in turn will produce enough tax dollars to meet the needs of the commonwealth. Other legislators argue that Kentucky needs to raise additional revenue through additional taxes. These lawmakers suggest imposing these taxes on wealthier Kentuckians to address what they believe to be a regressive tax system. What is your position on whether additional taxes are needed to adequately fund education and public structures? What tax policies would you propose or support?
If every Kentuckian paid taxes at the same rate and an exemption was provided for those not earning a substantial living wage, the tax rate for most Kentuckians would be lower. That system is fair to everybody and generates more revenue. The rich and super rich are not currently paying a rate proportionally on par with the rest of us. It’s only fair to close that gap.
I don’t believe low taxes necessarily generate economic activity. It depends on what is done with the money once it is collected. Countries with the highest tax rates also have some of the most robust and rapidly-growing economies. The people in these countries are healthier, better educated, and more able to participate in parts of life that build economic growth and provide revenue for the state. If taxes are so low that the government is unable to respond to the basic needs of its citizens, society may be unable to function on a level that can truly support growth. Infrastructure, safety, education, and health care all suffer when enough money isn’t there. Taxes may be evil, but they are a lesser evil compared to what happens when the government can’t provide for basic needs.
Kentucky is one of the two most difficult states for former felons to apply and receive their voting rights back. Over 186,000 Kentuckians have lost their right to vote because of our disenfranchisement laws, as have 5 million people across the nation. Many Kentuckians argue the right to vote should be restored when a person has paid his or her debt to society. Opponents argue that losing the right to vote is an appropriate punishment for people who commit felonies. What is your position on the issue of restoring voting rights for felons?
Restoration of voting rights should be made part of the exit process from prison or upon the completion of whatever other sentence had been imposed as part of the felony conviction. This is simple, common sense and could be easily implemented. When a person has paid a bill or worked off a debt, they should receive the goods and receipt that reward their payment.
In 2004 Kentucky spent about $808 million on the area of economic development. Nearly 71% of this spending was in the form of tax incentives for businesses. Some studies have suggested that public money spent on job training is more effective at creating jobs than money spent on tax incentives. However many economic development professionals argue that incentives are a necessary part of competing for scarce jobs. There is also a debate about the degree to which various economic development strategies have been and should be evaluated for results. What steps would you take with regard to Kentucky’s economic development, and how would you ensure that public dollars are well spent?
People don’t like paying taxes in the first place, but when those hard-earned dollars are turned over to profitable corporations instead of going toward badly needed services, it’s like a slap in the face.
$808 million is more than 16% of what Kentucky spent on health care that year and I’m confident every one of us would have loved to have applied that discount or could have found a more effective place to spend that money. Food, energy, housing, or schools are just a few that come to mind.
It could have been an 18% increase in our education spending. Seriously, Kentucky would have the greatest schools in the world if our students and teachers could afford to hire the same teams of lobbyists who funnel our tax dollars into corporate subsidies.
The use of taxpayer dollars as incentives, rebates, or bail-outs for corporations is offensive, disgusting, and is draining the money we badly need for services the state provides or COULD provide. Taxpayer money cannot be used as a safety net for poorly-run capitalism, nor a prize to lure companies that will only move elsewhere when their hand-outs dry up.
Undocumented immigrants are a growing part of Kentucky’s workforce, culture, and communities as they are for many states across the US. This has caused friction in many areas. Some Kentuckians think that undocumented workers are problematic because they take jobs and government services needed by citizens. Other Kentuckians say that immigrant communities make substantial positive contributions to our state and that their needs are just as important as citizens’ needs – and furthermore our economy couldn’t function without them. What is your stance on immigration and undocumented workers?
I don’t believe we should ever forget the United States is a nation of immigrants. People have been coming to America and Kentucky for generations because they are places of opportunity and prosperity. While we would prefer immigrants to join us through official channels, I think we have to respect the incredible risks and sacrifices people have endured just to be living among us in this beautiful place. People have left their beloved families and lives behind only for a chance at something we were born into by coincidence. That deserves more than just our empathy or selfishness.
If our selfishness means we turn our backs on them because of paperwork, we are denying them the very hope our country stands for.
I realize this is primarily a federal issue, but it has local concerns. Hiring undocumented workers is not nearly as offensive to me as paying them a wage less than anyone else. If Kentucky’s tax system existed as I described above, even undocumented workers would be would be paying into our system.
There are simple ways we can welcome new people and solve some of our own problems at once, but we need to do these things through compromise and respect.
Letter From a Voter:
Please allow me to say that I very much admire the campaign you've undertaken for KY State Senate, District 35. Thank you for continuing to devote yourself to the potential for positive change in our lives as US citizens, as afforded by our basic tenets of government.
I do have one question regarding your Main Objectives, as put forth in your June 9th mailing:
How do you see voter-initiated ballot terms working for Kentuckians, if implemented? Given the organizational troubles seen in California during recent decades -- troubles that many attribute to a "lack of ownership" in the context of measures put in front of the legislative body there -- I would think this point could raise concerns amongst potential supporters.
Thank you again.
I think Kentucky can learn a lot from California and from other states that give voters direct access to the ballot for issues and referenda. More than half of the states have some form of this element of democracy. Coming on board late does have at least one advantage, and that is that we can analyze what works well in other states and what doesn't.
I don't have a particular plan outlined for how I believe the system should be established in Kentucky, but I do believe that such a system should at least exist. Because our legislature is a part-time body and only meets once a year, we have such a limited window within which change can occur. If people feel an issue is important enough to organize to affect it, I don't think they should be at the mercy of legislators to put it up for a vote, in a year, two years, or whenever they can get it in. We are reliant on the legislature to take action, which is like waiting on an eclipse without a schedule.
Voter-initiated ballot referenda actually passed the Kentucky House 108 years ago but was voted down in the Senate and never fully revived. Some cities and towns in Kentucky – never Louisville – had this power for a while, but that was eliminated in 1980.
I think there could be a process established as part of an issues and referenda system that would provide legal guidance to those who wish to propose such ballot issues, so that once issues reach the ballot (or ultimately become law) they make sense in the larger scope of Kentucky statutes. I hope I've answered your question.
My main point on this is that I think ordinary citizens need to have the ability to organize and get results from the voting processes in times (such as now) when the legislature is unable or unwilling to address these concerns. Too many issues will never be heard in Frankfort's current climate of lobbyists outnumbering legislators by 5 to 1. The river of corporate campaign contributions that gushes through there doesn't help either. I believe there has to be a way for the people to take control of important issues – be they mining safety or health care – when Frankfort is uninterested in popular demands.
Talk with you soon,