Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear made several stops in western Kentucky Monday hoping to garner support for his proposed budget, which is currently under review with the General Assembly.
His stops included Murray State University, where he highlighted several education initiatives, and Murray Middle School where he spoke extensively of the need for “a new tone in Frankfort.”
“Maybe the most important thing that could come out of this session is a change in the tone in Frankfort; it’s time that we started treating each other the way that everyone is supposed to treat each other in a business or in a school...that we don’t call each other names and if we disagree, we disagree civilly so we can come together the next day,” he said.
“Just because someone has different convictions, and probably deeply-held convictions, than you do, doesn’t make them your enemy. And if we can change that tone, and right now it is a changed tone in Frankfort, then we’ll have a good session this session--but oh boy, next session and the session after, we have a chance to do really great and special things,” he added.
Beshear said in every metric which could be used to compare his proposed budget with documented past budgets, his is “the most responsible” and will put Kentucky in a better place going forward. He said more than once the proposed budget has more debt going off the books over the next two years than what will accumulate.
The proposed budget has garnered criticism on a number of issues, including a fully-funded, expanded Medicaid program. He said when considering a state that’s ranking among the worst in heart disease, lung cancer and diabetes, the answer is fully-funded, expanded Medicaid which will lead to better health, not creating burdens for people seeking medical assistance.
Kentucky ranks number one in child abuse and neglect, Beshear said, which is why he’s provided a funding mechanism for creating 350 new social worker positions. A federal report last year found Kentucky’s rate of child abuse to be the highest in the nation.
“Some think we shouldn’t do that because there are vacancies, but there are vacancies because the caseload is so high,” he explained. “Every social worker sees kids fall through the cracks because they don't have enough hours in the day. This will address that challenge.”
Beshear’s ‘education first’ budget also adds about $400 million new dollars to education which he said addresses the areas he feels are most critical. For starters, he said, it includes funding for the school safety bill which passed during the 2019 session but without a funding mechanism; a proposed $2,000 raise for teachers is intended to combat a teacher shortage which “threatens the education of our children”; provides an additional $11 million for textbooks and technology; adds to the SEEK formula’s dollars per pupil; provides a “clean/green school bus” for each school district in the commonwealth; provides enough funding through the lottery for more than 60,000 scholarships including more than 7,000 new, need-based scholarships.
“I think [the budget] has been generally well-received by the legislature. We’re trying to build a new tone in Frankfort of cooperation; that doesn’t mean everybody is there and ready immediately, and there are some who may have some slight differences of opinion, but all in all we see most disagreement with this budget on the margins and I think that’s because it’s responsible and it invests in the areas we can all agree,” Beshear said.
Murray Independent Schools Superintendent Coy Samons attended a speech Beshear gave on Murray State University’s campus. He said he’s very supportive of Beshear’s proposals, and believes there will be cooperation across partisan divides to create more “positives” in this year’s state budget.
“If you look at the new teacher coming in the district, that’s roughly a five percent raise,” Samons said about the proposed $2,000 raise for teachers. “It’s important because I think it shows we value education, we value teachers, and we’re making a commitment that we’re going to increase salaries to try to bring in the best candidates as we can.”
Beshear said while the proposed budget is good for education, “The pension challenge is still very real, especially to our regional universities.”
He said this session has brought about at least one new proposal which sets a different baseline for how it’s funded, “but what we really need is new revenue...and for me, it’s expanded gaming.”
He listed Missouri, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, saying, “Every single state around us, all but one, run by Republican governors and Republican legislatures, have gaming and they’re taking our dollars and using it for their needs. We get that extra source of revenue, we can decrease the burden on universities and for that matter, cities and counties as well.”
Beshear has taken criticism for supporting House Bill 137, proposed by Rep. Adam Koenig (R), which is now receiving bipartisan support. But his prediction: “I believe if it was called for a vote right now, sports betting would pass with the House.”
“It’s time for sports betting. ...Those that live in the Louisville region are getting commercials, every set of commercials, to go to Indiana and spend their money there. That’s pretty infuriating--our dollars are just flowing across the river when it could flow here across the Mississippi River. It’s being used to fund other states’ pensions or their education system or their healthcare,” he said.
“Do I believe there are some political considerations at play, and maybe some not fully where we need to get in putting the needs of our state above who gets a win and who gets a loss, there are probably some of those,” he added. “But I believe there’s also some leadership in the House that’s looking to do the right thing and get this bill passed.”
Calloway County Judge-Executive Republican Kenny Imes said he appreciated Beshear’s call for treating others with respect, and also said he supported Beshear’s proposals to reinvest in public education. Yet, he said those proposals hinge upon the availability of funding.
When Beshear first presented his proposed budget to the state legislature, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said using one-time revenues to fund recurring costs of some of Beshear’s proposals is “flawed” economic policy.
“I think that’s what we got to be careful of, because if you’re taking it out of a one-time fund that you got and you can’t continue, you’re going to be worse off in the end, and there’ll be more discontent and hollering and screaming about that,” Imes said. “You got to work that in the formula in the matrix of how you do all of these things.
Liam Niemeyer contributed to this report.