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Beshear warns Kentucky's momentum in jeopardy

by Joe Arnold


Posted on January 8, 2014 at 12:05 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 8 at 12:09 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- Saying Kentucky is "shrugging off an historic reputation for backwardness," Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear called on lawmakers not to retreat on advances made during his first six years in office.

In his second to last State of the Commonwealth address, Beshear sounded every bit like a governor fearful his administration and the state are running out of time.

"We are in danger of losing all of the positive momentum which has been built up," Beshear told lawmakers gathered for his 50 minute speech in an evening session of the General Assembly, "And I am not going to allow that to happen."

Of particular concern, education. Beshear warned of significant teacher layoffs and a weaker learning environment unless lawmakers restore funding.

"In balancing our budgets during the recession, we were sometimes forced to cut far too deeply, decimating many programs and services that Kentuckians desperately need," Beshear said.

But how to pay for it?

The governor promised he will present a tax modernization proposal with specific recommendations.  Legislative leaders said they need specifics on tax reform and Beshear's other revenue proposal, expanded gaming and what areas of the budget would face cuts to pay for education funding.

"As much as the discussion he's had tonight and what he has put into his speech, it is much in the details," said Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester).  "And it's hard to speculate on something that you have not seen or know what the details are of that."

Stivers spoke to reporters after the speech alongside House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg)

Stumbo said the governor was assured that "he'd be given the opportunity to present his package, his proposal, and that people not get stuck in positions before they've had the opportunity to see it."

The governor's office said his legislative package will rely on the report written by the Governor’s 2012 Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform, which included such items as:

•    lowering the top individual and corporate tax rates
•    broadening the tax base in the sales tax and retirement areas
•    establishing an angel investor tax credit for certain investments in small businesses; and
•    making changes that favor Kentucky-based companies.

Beshear did not mention either leader's top priority for the 2014 session, Stumbo's proposal to increase Kentucky's minimum sage and Stivers' push to amend Kentucky's constitution to allow the legislature to overturn regulations which do not conform with state law.

Some Republicans argue Beshear overstepped his authority when he made the unilateral decisions to expand Medicaid and create a Kentucky health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act or "Obamacare."

Beshear said job creation is his top priority for the session, which convened on Tuesday.

“Putting Kentuckians to work is the single-best thing we can do both for our families and our state,” he said.  “The good news is that companies want to come to Kentucky, and Kentucky companies continue to expand workforces, facilities and production lines.”

Beshear argued that to continue that progress, Kentucky needs to make itself more attractive to businesses.

Beshear's agenda also includes:
* continued implementation of expanded Medicaid and the Kentucky health insurance exchange under "Obamacare"
* a statewide indoor smoking ban
* banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors,
* tougher booster seat regulations,
* creating "no phone zones" around schools and construction workers.
* a more aggressive approach against heroin use,
* and extending domestic violence protection to people in dating relationships.

"Violence is violence and abuse is abuse, whether you're in a married relationship or a dating relationship," Beshear said.  "Kentucky is the only state without any civil protection for victims of violence in a dating relationship.  We're behind the times … way behind the times."

Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) scoffed at Beshear's call for civility, saying the governor used the speech to attack Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

"In Washington, you find leaders focused on keeping power, not helping people," Beshear said in the closing minute of his address.  "They point fingers instead of reaching across the aisle.
They tear down instead of building up.  And they preach intolerance instead of inclusion."

"He was cheerleading for obviously his candidate in the Senate race," Hoover said to reporters after the speech.  "And for him to say that Washington politicians' 'take no prisoners' approach to politics, I mean he is the one who had that attitude in 2012 in state House races.  He raised millions of dollars for House Democratic candidates, he was on TV, he was on the radio, for a lot of House Democratic candidates.  And then to stand up and be critical of that, I was a little disappointed in that but I understand he was making a political statement there."

As Kentucky's Secretary of State, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes was seated in the front row for Beshear's speech.

Blaming, in part, social media and talk radio, Beshear said people are losing the ability to listen.

"We're losing the ability to treat each other's opinions with respect and to overcome differences," Beshear said.  "My friends, we must resolve not to let that happen here in Kentucky.  We must remember that we are Kentuckians first and Democrats and Republicans second."