Beshear: Children will not be ‘collateral damage’ in budget battles


by Joe Arnold

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 12:48 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 7 at 1:48 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- In his sixth State of the Commonwealth address, Governor Steve Beshear on Wednesday night said Kentucky has to face the facts and make some tough decisions as it decides how to fund its obligations without cutting essential services.

"As we work to make our public pension system whole again," Beshear (D) told a joint session of the General Assembly, "I will not allow our schoolchildren to be collateral damage."

Like a doctor giving a serious diagnosis, Beshear described a fiscally sick Kentucky that needs more revenues to survive as we know it.

"Kentucky is at a tipping point," Beshear said.

Yet, the governor's lack of specific proposals to fix the pension system's unfunded liability and reform the tax code frustrated the Republican leader of the House.

"I think every member of the General Assembly, Republican and Democrat is looking for leadership," said House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) in a statement.  "They’re looking for his ideas, looking for what he wants to get done, to get something out there so we can begin that discussion and we didn’t get that tonight.  We just heard ‘Here’s the problems, I look forward to working with you over the next year’ and that was it.  He talked about the need for more revenue, what’s his proposal to get more revenue? We didn’t hear any of that."

For the first time, Beshear used the State of the Commonwealth address to detail a number of examples of the  consequences of years of cutbacks.

The governor detailed budget cuts in K-12 classrooms, textbook funding, a school safety program, universities, aid for "needy students," child-care assistance programs, local health departments and agencies which serve senior citizens.
"But, now that we're emerging from the recession, it's time to repair the worst of this damage, rebuild those programs we never wanted to cut, and reinvest in our future," Beshear said.

Beshear's vision triggered applause  -- and a crucial question.

"But where will the money come from?" he asked the lawmakers, later answering the question for them.

"Well, the answer is obvious: We must modernize our out-dated tax code," Beshear said.

In previous years, expanded gambling was the answer to Beshear's question -- a central role in his agenda and gubernatorial campaigns.

Yet, the governor did not mention one word of the issue in his 45 minute speech.

And that's just fine with legislative leaders.

"I appreciate the governor not mentioning it because it has been a divisive issue in both chambers," said Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester).  "(Gambling) would have an extremely hard time in either chamber passing because a lot of people haven't agreed on what expanded gaming would be."

On Tuesday, Beshear told reporters that an inability of racetrack representatives to come to an agreement with other gambling proponents on the language of a gambling bill would prevent him from advancing the issue.

"I do appreciate him saying basically he's taking it off the table," Stivers continued, "something that there can't be consensus on.  And, let's move on to the next issue."

"(Beshear) takes away this panacea of an idea that some way expanded gaming would solve all the problems," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg).

"He gets that off the table and I think that's a good way to look at it Mr. President," Stumbo said as he and Stivers met with reporters after the speech.  "If we can't agree upon that let's move on to something - see if we can find agreement on one of these other issues."

"It's not like we're at a loss for tough issues," Stumbo said.

Among them, Beshear also called for:

  • Agency bonds for university projects
  • Tweaks to the new prescription painkiller law
  • Raising the high school dropout age
  • Stricter child welfare laws
  • Statewide smoking ban
  • increased education funding

Beshear did not mention several percolating issues, including hemp farming, gun control and coal mining.

"There is no election in Kentucky this year, and hallelujah for that," Beshear said to applause. 

"That's one less distraction, one less temptation to fall into the partisan trap of thinking that our differences matter more than our shared goals," he said.