Analysis: Beshear mixes talk of brutal budget with hope for reforms; leaves out a few items

01/04/2012 06:50 PM

Few people will be happy with the next two-year budget but the future won’t be as bleak if the legislature passes a gambling constitutional amendment and reforms to laws regarding drugs, child protection, education and tax credits. That was Gov. Steve Beshear’s message in his State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday night.

Here were highlights:

  • On the state budget: “The key to balancing this budget lays not on the revenue side but on the spending side. We will be cutting a lot … The numbers are so retched that we will likely be forced to carve into some of our must critical, basic services. And it will hurt.”

The governor will unveil his budget proposal in two weeks. But his spokesman told Tuesday that the administration told agencies to prepare for 7-9 percent cuts.

  • On gambling: Kentuckians are “giving away” so much money in other states that a foundation related to the Horseshoe Casino in Indiana has put up a big bonus for the contractors to finish repairing the Sherman Minton bridge by Jan. 27. Beshear said a constitutional amendment will be proposed in the Senate and hopes it can pass both chambers without being changed. “My friends, it’s time to listen to our people.”

Beshear got applause. But after the speech Senate President David Williams called the response “tepid” in his interview with KET’s Renee Shaw. And he said he has no idea what the proposal will say even though Beshear pledged it would start in the Senate.

  • On tax reform: He offered what sounded like an endorsement of the concept without any direction about what he wants to see. “I guarantee three things: One, all voices will be heard. Two, we will consider all options. And three, our focus will be on creating a system that meets Kentucky’s future needs.” In other words — legislators, take the lead.
  • On drugs: Stopping the scourge starts will passing a bill to strengthen monitoring of the prescribing of pills. He did not endorse an approach to cracking down on methamphetamine or even mention that despite the rising rates of use of meth making, especially in southern Kentucky.
  • On education: Early childhood education will probably have to wait until “our revenues recover.” But Beshear did make another call for raising the dropout bill — something Williams also seem unenthusiastic about in his post-speech interview. He said the governor must demonstrate that it would actually reduce the drop-out rate and not cost extra money in new alternative education programs.

Beshear also said he will propose consolidating the two programs aimed at career and technical education. That function under the Workforce Development Department will move to the Education Department.

  • On child safety: He will propose reforms to child protection, such as a bill creating an independent review panel to “examine child fatalities and near-fatalities” in which abuse or neglect is suspected. That panel will be appointed by the Attorney General. He also said he wants the legislature to hold public hearings to vet the arguments about what information about children under social workers’ supervision should be made public.
  • On tax credits: Beshear endorsed Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson’s bill to offer tax credits to so-called angel investors who provide start-up capital to smaller entrepreneurial enterprises.

Beshear also proposed a tax credit for members of the Kentucky National Guard who want to adopt children.

Other issues were either glazed over or left out of the 37-minute remarks:

  • Infrastructure needs — such as building new bridges in Northern Kentucky and Louisville (other than a reference to the Horseshoe casino in Indiana offering a $1 million bonus to the contractors to fix the Sherman Minton bridge early).

  • Coal and its future — Williams in his interview with Shaw noted that last year Beshear told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “get off our backs.” This year, the word coal wasn’t mentioned. House Speaker Greg Stumbo also said he would have liked to have heard Beshear talk about the future of coal.
  • Universities — No mention of the University of Louisville hospital merger or the future four-year universities or community colleges must play in the commonwealth.
    Stumbo said on KET that the bill that would allow the independent University of Pikeville to be included in the public university system would be proposed Thursday.

He said it would be paid for using multi-county coal severance tax funds over the next 10 years.

  • Statewide smoking ban — Beshear started talking about reducing smoking and how the rate of middle school students who smoked had dropped to 9 percent from 22 percent. But he didn’t call for any further action and didn’t mention a statewide smoking ban, which Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, has proposed. Beshear has said he favors leaving smoking bans up to local governments.

One other omission. Beshear mentioned several times about the need to put the election and partisanship behind them. That was a major theme of last year’s campaign ofindependent candidate for governor Gatewood Galbraith, who criticized the party leaders for trying to block each other from getting credit for reforms instead of compromising. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Beshear could have acknowledged Galbraith, who passed away early Wednesday.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.