Governor Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, offered a vision of hope, prosperity, and a step into the “good times” in a 44-minute State of the Commonwealth address to a joint session of the Kentucky House and Senate.
In his address, Beshear poked fun at the political split between him and the Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly, who will have the task of tackling a state spending plan, along with dozens of other priority bills over the next several months.
“It is a new year, and everyone has something to be excited about. Many are excited that I will be serving as your Governor for the next four years, and the rest you are excited that I am now term-limited. Regardless of your perspective, it gives us a chance to push politics aside and move our commonwealth forward together,” Beshear said.
Beshear spoke of a “record-setting economy” in Kentucky, with the best four-year period of economic growth in the state’s history.
“We set a record for new private sector investment – more than $28.7 billion dollars – the most secured during the tenure of any Governor,” Beshear said. “Together, we created more than 51,200 new jobs for our communities and families – and at some of the highest wages we’ve ever seen, last year averaging $26.67 an hour before benefits. I say “we” because economic development is a team sport. It takes both the executive and the legislative branches, along with so many hardworking local officials and business leaders. Because of our work – because of all of our work – the eyes of the world are on Kentucky and what we are doing.”
In late December, Beshear laid out his budget priorities, something he returned to often in his speech from the House of Representatives on Wednesday, including pay raises for teachers and universal pre-k.
“We are rightfully concerned about learning loss,” he said. “So, we should address it where it begins. In the last academic year, only 46% of kindergartners were considered kindergarten-ready. Instituting universal pre-K the right way means investing in both pre-K and our child-care providers. That’s why my budget proposal provides record funding to help our child-care providers in their transition to serve both younger children and provide after-school programs.”
Beshear also struck a tone of brotherhood beyond the partisan divide, which rang to another major speech, his second inauguration, which took place in mid-December.
“This is our time to push away the division, to prove we can govern without name-calling or scapegoating, to do it without anger, fear, or hatred. That we not only talk about our collective faith, but we actually live it,” he said.
Gov. Beshear concluded his speech by saying, “With this new year comes a new opportunity for progress – to build that better, brighter Kentucky. That is what our children deserve – to make sure they can chase any dream they could ever imagine right here at home. Scripture reminds us, ‘Our God is merciful and tender. He will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us.’ We’re walking into that bright dawn, and we’re doing it together. Remember: Life is short, so do good things and be kind to each other.”
Following the speech, House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers indicated it is important to give any governor the ability to make a case for their priorities. There is some broad agreement between the legislative leaders and Beshear regarding continued flood and tornado assistance. However, there are ongoing discussions of “how and how much,” Stivers said.
Stivers also said there is a willingness to agree on the need for additional infrastructure and broadband access.
There are places where there the General Assembly is unreceptive, Stivers and Osborne said, including universal pre-kindergarten. However, there is a “strong desire” to expand high-quality daycare access to get more workers into the workforce.
Revenue bills, including the state budget and road funding plan, start in the House of Representatives. Earlier this week, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said he expects the House will unveil its version of the biennium budget next week.
In a press conference before the speech, Senate President Robert Stivers also indicated a priority in the Senate would be Kentucky’s energy development – something he said is needed because of the massive development happening around the Commonwealth.