Local News Politics

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told state lawmakers last night he continues to oppose broad-based tax increases, and he’s urging unity, not divisiveness.

It was Gov. Beshear’s fourth trip to the Kentucky House to deliver a State of the Commonwealth address since taking office in December 2007. And he used the 37 minute speech to a joint session of the legislature to defend his stewardship of the state. He says for three years, he has run Frankfort just like families run their budgets – they work harder and spend less.

“Faced with crushing shortfalls, you and I together have balanced Kentucky’s budgets eight times in three years, slashing over a billion dollars in spending,” said Beshear.

Beshear says Kentucky remains in better shape than states like New Jersey, Virginia and Michigan, which have made drastic cuts to core services in order to balance their budgets. And he says still other states have approved broad-based tax increases – something he refuses to do.

“I will not burden our families as they struggle to survive,” said Beshear. “And I will not jeopardize our fragile recovery.”

Turning to the economy, Beshear sounded an optimistic tone, saying “the light at the end of the tunnel is real, and we are moving closer to it.” As evidence, he pointed to $2.2 billion in planned business investments in Kentucky and a five percent rise in tax receipts. But Beshear admits the difficult times are not over.

“Creating jobs is slow work,” said Beshear. “It’s hard work. But there is no doubt that our efforts are gaining momentum.”

But for business to succeed, Beshear says Kentucky needs a better-educated workforce. And one way to attain that, he says, is to raise the state’s dropout age from 16 to 18.

“A student who drops out will earn about $7,000 less a year than a student who completes high school in Kentucky,” said Beshear. “If a person goes on to college, that gap is larger – over a career, it tops a million dollars.”

Beshear also touted his plan for balancing the state’s Medicaid budget, which involves moving second year funding to the current year and covering any second year shortages with savings from managed care. Beshear says the proposal needs to pass.

“If it doesn’t, we will have to either cut $600 million in services at a time when they’re desperately needed, or we’ll have to cut reimbursement rates to our providers by 30 percent,” said Beshear.

Finally, Beshear urged lawmakers to prove the pundits wrong by working together with the administration for the betterment of the state. He says a Republican initiative simplifying business interactions with the state is a good starting point.

“Outside this building, people are sick and tired of partisan rhetoric and political posturing,” said Beshear.

Reaction to the speech was mixed. Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer gave the governor high marks.

“Taking note of the fact that we are doing better than a lot of our surrounding states,” said Palmer. “And I think that is a testament to his leadership and the leadership of the General Assembly.”

But Senate President David Williams, who likely will square off against Beshear this fall in the governor’s race, said the governor still has no agenda.

“He announced no agenda,” said Williams. “He claimed credit for things that he had very little to do with and announced no agenda. What can the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky take away from this speech tonight that he plans to do this year or in the next term? There is no agenda.”

Now, lawmakers will get down to the business of passing bills. But they’ll have to act quickly. Only 25 days remain in the 30 day session, and President Williams is proposing the session end six days early, to make up for last year’s six day special session on the budget. That suggestion is not meeting any resistance from House Speaker Greg Stumbo.