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Gov. Andy Beshear calls for bipartisan cooperation in State of the Commonwealth address

Gov. Andy Beshear addresses the General Assembly during the State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024.
Ryan Van Velzer
Gov. Andy Beshear addresses the General Assembly during the State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear addressed a joint session of the Republican-dominated General Assembly Wednesday to discuss his policy goals for the year ahead and to tout a “record-setting economy.”

As Beshear took to the podium before a room full of state legislators, the majority of whom belonged to the opposing party, he joked, “Many of you are excited that I will be serving as your governor for the next four years... and the rest are excited that I am now term-limited.”

It’s a comment he’s made before and it hits at a core tension between Beshear and the state’s Republican legislative supermajority.

Beshear and Republicans have long quibbled over who deserves credit for the state’s successes, but in Wednesday night’s speech Beshear extended an olive branch, acknowledging the legislature’s role in supporting economic development.

“It takes both the executive and the legislative branches, along with so many hardworking local officials and business leaders,” Beshear said. “Because of our work, because of all of our work, the eyes of the world are on Kentucky, and what we are doing.”

Kentucky lawmakers gathered in the Kentucky state Capitol to listen to Beshear’s address on the second day of the legislative session as legislators begin crafting the next two-year budget.

As Beshear laid out his goals the legislative session and reiterated elements of his proposed budget, he emphasized his relationship with the legislature. Citing a “red hot economy,” Beshear called for the legislature to approve major investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure and law enforcement.

Beshear, who recently won a second term in a closely-watched race, reiterated many of the same priorities Wednesday night that he did in his reelection campaign.

In his address, he called on lawmakers to include an 11% raise for all public school personnel, including teachers and bus drivers.

“Our teachers are difference makers every single day. Let’s show them we appreciate what they do,” Beshear said. “This budget opportunity is our chance to make things right here in Kentucky. Let's work together to get it done in this session.”

Beshear has called for similar universal raises in previous budget cycles to no avail. The legislature has opted instead to allocate money through the SEEK funding formula, which individual districts could choose to spend on teacher pay.

And while the legislature did increase funding to the formula in 2022, the allocations have not kept up with inflation, and the gap between Kentucky's poorest and wealthiest districts is now worse than it was three decades ago.

Beshear also renewed calls for universal pre-K, which he said would be transformational for the state if paired with additional funding for childcare.

“Where’s the appetite for this? With 34,000 sets of parents a year and thousands more that can't find childcare,” Beshear said. “Providing this opportunity, serving that many of our citizens and our youngest learners every year would not only make us more competitive, it would be a true legacy of this session.”

Beshear released his top-line $33-billion budget proposal last month, which included a $2.5 billion additional investment in education over the two year budget period. The legislature has yet to unveil their own budget plan, but leadership said Wednesday they expect to file it in the next week or two.

Beshear also touted Kentucky’s economic development gains, which he said have put the state in a strong position for the upcoming budget. During Beshear’s first term, the state reaped a record $28.5 billion in private sector investments, record low-unemployment and saw the creation of more than 50,000 new jobs.

He also pointed to infrastructure and manufacturing accomplishments like the Brent Spence Companion Bridge, electric vehicle battery plants and a new paper mill in Henderson, Kentucky.

Beshear noted that the economic development came in spite of severe natural disasters — record flooding in eastern Kentucky and deadly tornadoes in the west.

While Beshear and the Republican supermajority legislature have occasionally agreed on certain economic development priorities — like the bipartisan sports betting bill and a special session to approve $410 million in incentives for a 5,000-job Ford battery manufacturing park — they have disagreed over many other topics.

Sean Southard, a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said in a statement ahead of the address that Kentucky’s success is due to Republican leadership, rather than a joint effort with the governor.

“He’ll claim credit for everything, from beautiful sunrises to bountiful harvests,” Southard said. “Republicans are committed to a sound budget, tackling rising crime, and addressing our students’ educational needs.”

Beshear called for more bipartisanship in the upcoming session.

“This is our chance to push away the division, to prove that we can govern without name-calling or scapegoating. To do it without anger, without fear, without hatred,” Beshear said. “With this new year comes new opportunities for progress.”

Following the address, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester said there were several items in the governor’s address that Republicans agreed would benefit Kentuckians.

“There are things that he said tonight that I believe we will agree with, there are things we have to be convinced of and there are things we probably won’t do,” Stivers said.

Stivers said Republicans agree that communities rebuilding the aftermath of the tornadoes and floods that rocked parts of the state need more assistance and that Kentucky needs to invest more in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure — particularly in rural areas.

But there are also issues where Beshear is unlikely to find any agreement with top Republicans.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne of Prospect nixed several of Beshears top priorities, saying there is no appetite to fund either universal teacher raises outside the pre-existing formula or universal pre-K.

"I just don’t think there is a tremendous amount of sentiment for [universal pre-K],” Osborne said. "I just don’t think there is a tremendous amount of support for it in our chamber."

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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