Until technology intervened, about $1 billion in Kentucky tax receipts were processed using index cards and ledgers. Even then, some of the computers used were antiques, some a quarter-century old and unable to communicate with each other. In addition, downtowns throughout the commonwealth lost key businesses as people moved to, worked and shopped in the suburbs.
But now there is a renaissance taking place. Thanks to Gov. Paul Patton, his staff, and three successful programs, residents are feeling empowered to make a difference.
Empower Kentucky, Renaissance Kentucky and the designation of the Kentucky Highlands as an empowerment zone have given the commonwealth the backing it needs to be a technological leader in economic development.
"Two philosophies underlie Empower Kentucky," Patton said in a March 1996 message to other commonwealth employees. "First, state government exists to deliver appropriate services to the public. Second, and most importantly, state Illustration recreated from EZ/EC Website
government employees are overwhelmingly professional and dedicated to delivering service in the most efficient manner if properly supported through training, technology and management."
A key benefit of the program is revenue. In January 1997, less than a year after delivering his message, Patton announced that his administration had identified nearly $700 million in savings and other revenue that can be realized over a seven-year period. That amount includes $30 million in savings during the first year of implementation, and an estimate of more than $148 million just in 2004, the end of the seven-year window.
But service and revenue are connected. "We can significantly improve the services we provide to our customers -- the citizens of Kentucky," the governor said. "The teams [of commonwealth employees] have designed smarter ways to get the job done and better methods to serve constituencies -- from fewer forms to getting complete information in one phone call to one-stop local access to services."
Administrators for Empower Kentucky, on its Web site, said a large part of the funding from the Kentucky Legislature was slated to be spent on "needed technology to speed and modernize government accounting, budgeting and cash management. Currently, about $1 billion in tax receipts, or one-fifth of the state's revenues, are processed using index cards and ledgers rather than computers."
"By today's standards, the systems we're using are antiques," the governor said before the improvements. "The state purchases $15 billion in goods and services annually, and we're missing opportunities to save money by volume-buying and by not providing information to our managers in a form where they can make sound decisions. We cannot afford to spend millions to maintain 60-plus computer systems, some of which are 25 years old and often can't communicate with each other."
Another program taking root is the Renaissance Kentucky Program, which offers a new approach to addressing the economic situations of Kentucky's downtowns. Announced by Patton in September 1997, the initiative's goal is to renew the strength of the commonwealth's "pulse centers."
Many communities lost their downtown appeal when businesses moved out of cities to serve people living in the suburbs. Now there is a desire to reverse that trend, and an alliance between the Kentucky Housing Corporation, the Department for Local Government, the Kentucky Heritage Council and the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) has been formed to assist a renaissance community with its redevelopment vision. Funding to carry out this program comes from many sources, including community development block grants, low-income-housing tax credits and commonwealth government resources.
"We must accept the fact that the world is changing, and we can't make our downtown something that goes against our economic and social desires," Patton said. "But we can guide our downtowns to be the best they can be and keep them a safe and efficient part of our constantly evolving society. We can do that if we