Beshear talks about a case for more money. Now what?

02/07/2013 07:36 AM

If talk is indeed cheap, then that’s at least one thing leaders in Frankfort don’t have to worry about breaking the state budget.

Gov. Steve Beshear’s State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday night was chock full of reminders that Kentucky has problems and opportunities that, in Beshear’s view, need more money to fix. And he said his next move is to start “to meet with leadership in both chamber to discuss what progress is feasible” on changing Kentucky’s tax code to generate more revenue and make the commonwealth more attractive to companies.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers said in that joint news conference that they are ready to “have the conversations” about what to do next. They would both be “open” to each others’ and the governor’s views.

But elsewhere in his speech, Beshear warned lawmakers the talking couldn’t last too long. In fact, talking without action could be costly after all, he said.

“If we don’t act, we’ll begin slipping behind,” he said at one point. “Delay could be deadly,” he said at another.

Key lawmakers in both parties agreed that the governor remained cautious in his speech. Some, like Stivers, Stumbo and Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said the governor was right to lay out his overarching goals in broad strokes and leave the details for the negotiating table. (Beshear wants to take up tax reform after the 2013 session — such as in a special session — because odd-year sessions require approval of three-fifths of each chamber for revenue measures).

Others lawmakers, most notably House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover, maligned the speech as “predictable” and lacking direction, boldness and details.

“It’s the same approach he’s had now for several years,” said a visibly frustrated Hoover. (See part of Hoover’s answer in the video later in the post.)

The first test of what Beshear wants will come in the remaining 24 work days of the 2013 General Assembly session. Most lawmakers agree that they must do something soon to shore up the Kentucky Retirement System before it goes bust after more than a decade of getting less from the state budget than it needed and for under-performing in the stock market.

Senate Republicans want to move forward with reforms, which include ensuring that the state makes its full payment in the next two-year budget that will be crafted in 2014. House Democrats, led by Stumbo, say that means designating where that money will come from as part of the reform bill. He said he and Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, are working on identifying sources of money.

Stivers and Stumbo said they are willing to listen to each other:

Beshear, meanwhile, said in his speech he wants lawmakers to look at tax reform as a way to generate more money to pay into the pension system and do other things like buy textbooks and pay for early childhood education.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said Senate Republicans are skeptical about tax reform but haven’t ruled it out. Here’s what he said:

Tilley, the House Judiciary Chairman, said he’d like to see Beshear take a leadership role in brokering a compromise between Senate Republicans who want to pass a pension reform bill during the 2013 session without necessarily tagging a source of money and House Democrats who say the revenue must be outlined.

While most lawmakers weren’t invigorated by the governor’s speech, they at least were willing to give the governor the benefit of the doubt … except Hoover.

Hoover blasted the speech as vapid and “disturbing” in its lack of detail.


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