What we learned -- and didn't -- from Gov. Beshear's 6th State of the Commonwealth Address

02/06/2013 11:21 PM

The 44-minute statewide televised speech Gov. Steve Beshear gave Wednesday night was heavy on somber notes about Kentucky not having enough money for all the education and health related programs he’d like to see.

Beshear made a broad pitch for solving those problems, as well as Kentucky’s massively underfunded pension system, through tax reform. But he didn’t so much as hint at what specific changes to the tax code he favors.

Instead, he posed the issue to lawmakers like a question and promised to keep talking with them to “build a consensus” — most likely for a special legislative session later this week.

Beshear had said most of that before in one way or another, either through previous speeches or in response to reporters’ questions in recent weeks. But the 2013 State of the Commonwealth Address was instructive in other ways for what other messages it contained and what it left out.

We learned: The governor really wants Kentucky to have more money for education (for colleges and universities, student financial aid, K-12 classrooms, textbooks, early childhood education, more teachers, raises for teachers, teacher training and all-day kindergarten.)

We didn’t learn: Whether the governor will try again to push for a revenue source he once touted as a way to help pay for such programs — expanded gambling. The words “gambling,” “gaming,” “casinos,” “horse tracks,” “race tracks” and “equine industry” weren’t mentioned. (That, by the way, was fine with the legislative leaders — House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers. Both said they were glad Beshear didn’t talk about it because it has no shot in 2013 and would have been only a distraction.).

We learned: The governor believes Kentucky must “reduce our unfunded liability” of the state employee pension system.

We didn’t learn: Which suggested reforms to the Kentucky Retirement System that he endorses or has concerns about.

We learned: Why the governor allowed the unfunded liability in the pension system to grow by not pushing to fully fund the state’s contribution to the fund. “Because we had insufficient revenues and it would have required us to gut our most fundamental priorities: K-12 education, public safety and job creation.”

We didn’t learn: Anything new about guns. Beshear didn’t talk about the issue even though other governors, like those of Connecticut, New York and Colorado, made a call for gun safety measures in their statewide speeches this year. (Beshear’s own police commissioner does have a strong opinion on the subject.)

We learned: That lawmakers aren’t wild about tax reform — or at least the concept of tax reform without details. As Stumbo told reporters after the speech, he noticed some clapping but, “I didn’t see a lot of hands in the General Assembly section of the floor go together.”

We didn’t learn: What Beshear thought of the recommendations contained in the more than 450-page report from the blue ribbon commission on tax reform that he commissioned last year.

We learned: Beshear plans to keep the scourge of drug abuse in the forefront of public discussion. He mentioned the need to “tweak” House Bill 1 that set new restrictions on prescription pills. And he declared that Kentucky would not return to the “prescription playground that it was before.” He also highlighted the need for expanding newborn screening to identify babies who are born addicted to drugs.

We didn’t learn: Whether the governor sees reforms to Kentucky’s death penalty as a priority. It’s been a year since the American Bar Association said the death penalty needs to be halted at least until some fundamental changes are made to make sure Kentucky doesn’t execute innocent people.

We learned: The governor has changed his position on a statewide smoking ban. In 2010 and throughout the 2011 governor’s race, Beshear said he preferred local communities to make the decision about whether to allow smoking in bars and restaurants. Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said on Pure Politics she believed the governor had change course. And he confirmed it Wednesday. “Folks, this isn’t a rights issue,” he said. “People could still smoke — just not in places where their smoke endangers the health of our workers and others.”

We didn’t learn: Where the governor stands on industrial hemp. It wasn’t mentioned.

We learned: Beshear regrets that the state had to make cutbacks, including the most recent move to cut off child care assistance for families earning between 100 percent and 150 percent of the poverty rate. The health cabinet ran out of money. “Because eligibility requirements will become stricter, some parents who are already working will no doubt have to quite,” he said.

We didn’t learn: Whether the governor will sign off on expanding Medicaid to those making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty rate as the Affordable Care Act allows. It also wasn’t mentioned.

And from the peanut gallery

Beshear wasn’t the only ones offering his take on Wednesday night. Here some highlights from the Twittersphere about the speech:

Thomas F. Loftus ‏@TomLoftus_CJ
Smoking ban is a head fake. Beshear has one message – need more revenue, or face more and more cuts. #kyga13

Kimberly Paige King ‏@KimberlyKingGOP
State of KY per the Gov – tax/spend, tax/spend, repeat

David Floyd ‏@kyfloyd
How is it that our education performance has improved dramatically while funding has decreased?#maybeitsnotthemoney

John Tilley ‏@RepJohnTilley
.@GovSteveBeshear’s speech set the right tone. We are at a tipping point and must act now to move the Commonwealth forward. #sotc #kyga13

damon thayer ‏@damon_thayer
Hey @GovSteveBeshear thanks for the shout out. But I get nervous when you talk about “reinvestment” and “new revenue”

Bennett Haeberle ‏@bhaeberle
“@TomLoftus_CJ: After a few applause lines for easy issues.. drifting to quiet again. #kyga13” Simon and garfunkel sound of silence

Gregory Hall ‏@gregoryahall
23 interruptions for applause by my count. #kyga13

Alex Keys ‏@AlexJKeys
Stumbo should shave.


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