FRANKFORT — In his final State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Steve Beshear celebrated many of his major policy accomplishments during his tenure and called on lawmakers to continue moving the 2015 session toward job-creation initiatives.
The over-riding theme of Wednesday evening’s address was Beshear’s advocacy for workforce development in Kentucky, and the four ways he says he’s strengthened it: early childhood development, education reform, affordable healthcare, and low taxes.
Popular among the half a million or more Kentuckians currently enrolled, Beshear told lawmakers that the Affordable Care Act-funded state exchange gave residents a higher quality of life and less chance of bankruptcy.
“Look,” he said. “You can argue the politics, but you can’t argue the results.”
Beshear said that 75 percent of those enrolled never had insurance before. And that despite being warned off of the initiative at several points for its political volatility in the state, he has received estimates from Pricewaterhouse Coopers that the healthcare expansion would generate 17,000 jobs and inject $15.6 billion into Kentucky’s economy.
The governor also hammered home his point on a smoking ban: “When it comes to preventable illnesses…nothing is as devastating to Kentucky as smoking.”
Education Reform and Early Childhood
“We were the first state to adopt rigorous Common Core academic standards,” said Beshear, who added that education reforms were a significant part of his overall plan to create a more attractive workforce for outside companies.
The governor touted the statewide adoption of Next Generation Science Standards, increased enrollment in preschool education, and the raising of the state’s graduation age to 18.
Beshear said that keeping taxes low was key to cultivating an attractive business sector in the state, and therefore driving up employment numbers. He noted that Kentucky has been ranked eighth in the nation for its business-friendly climate.
He used the moment to advocate for P3—or Public Private Partnership—legislation, saying that it was the best way to fund the state’s planned infrastructure changes.
“Using current procurement and financing mechanisms, we are simply not equipped to tackle these ‘mega-projects’ in a timely manner without squeezing out local projects,” he said.
Veterans, Offenders, and Dating Violence
Beshear called on the state legislature to do more for veterans re-entering the workforce with disabilities, and for offenders who have served their time. He asked for legislation that would bar the discrimination of either group that seeks employment with public agencies in the state.
He also advocated for expanded protections for victims of dating violence, noting that 14 percent of high school-aged children say they’ve been victimized.
“We need legislation that expands access to drugs that immediately reverse the effects of overdoses,” said Beshear. “That enhances penalties for major traffickers, and that protects users from minor drug charges when they call 911 to help an overdose victim.”
He cited the enormous growth rate of heroin-related deaths and convictions in the state, and pointed to the roughly 130 people who flooded the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday looking for answers from lawmakers.