Transcript of Gov. Beshear’s Jan. 19 budget address

In case you missed it, here is the transcript of Gov. Beshear’s Tuesday budget address to the General Assembly:

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, distinguished members of the Kentucky General Assembly, Lt. Governor Mongiardo, other Constitutional officers, honorable members of the Court of Justice, honored guests, including Kentucky’s First Lady and my fellow Kentuckians.

As your governor, I come tonight during a time of unprecedented financial hardship in our country to present my plan for funding state government over the next two years.

This financial crisis was created by forces beyond our control, but it has been my job to lead our people through it. Six times since I became governor in December 2007 the General Assembly and I have acted together to fill budget shortfalls ranging from $100 million to nearly a billion dollars. This budget I unveil tonight fills a seventh gap between expected revenues and critical needs, the largest shortfall in the history of the Commonwealth. And it does so by continuing the same strategic approach that I have used to guide Kentucky through these last two years of economic turmoil, an approach that has strengthened, day by day, how we serve our people. Continue reading

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Governor, House leaders at odds over energy policy

The debate over the state’s comprehensive energy policy could be over for this year’s legislative session, or could be taken up in the session’s final two days next week, depending upon who you ask.

House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, a Sandy Hook Democrat and the chamber’s point person on energy issues, said earlier this week that his House Bill 537, which would help outline the state’s energy policy, is dead for the session.

The announcement came after the Senate tacked on provisions to the bill that would lift the state’s moratorium on nuclear energy production and open up state-owned lands for oil and gas well leases, according to the Courier-Journal.

“The Senate is not willing to recede in those additions they have put onto it, so House bill 537 is dead for this session,” Adkins said in the statement.

But during a sweep through western Kentucky on Thursday to hand out Department of Homeland Security grants, Gov. Steve Beshear urged passage of the bill with the additions, the site KYWordsmith.com is reporting.

Beshear reportedly defended the nuclear energy provisions in the bill, saying that it will allow the discussion to begin about whether the state should allow nuclear power plants during a stop in Paducah, according to KYWordsmith.com.

The remarks apparently received a warm reception in the Paducah area, which is home to a uranium enrichment facility and to Sen. Bob Leeper, the Independent lawmaker who has pushed for the moratorium to be lifted for at least two legislative sessions.

The House and Senate reconvene for the final two days of the session on March 26.

Road plan stalls over gas tax freeze

Work to pass a road plan and funding mechanism stalled Friday over a disagreement between House and Senate  leaders about when the legislation should be delivered to Gov. Steve Beshear.

Senate President David Williams said Friday morning during a press conference with House Speaker Greg Stumbo that he wants the governor make any vetoes in the road plan and sign it into law before the Senate passes a freeze of the state’s motor fuels tax.

House Bill 374 would freeze the motor fuels tax at its current rate and allow the state to use that revenue to borrow about $400 million toward the $1.2 billion transportation spending plan contained in House Bill 330. The tax rate is currently set to drop by four cents on April 1 without action by the legislature.

“If (the governor) signs the bill today, we’ll pass the four pennies,” Williams said. “If he doesn’t sign the road plan bill or he vetoes it, we won’t need the pennies.”

That’s not how Stumbo and many House members, who have already passed the road plan and the tax freeze, want to see the legislation move forward.

Stumbo said House members won’t want to send the road plan to the governor if the Senate hasn’t already signed off on the tax freeze.

“I think we’d like to see the Senate pass the pennies first,” Stumbo said. Continue reading

Beshear issues statement clarifying statement about raising dropout age

Mark Hebert with WHAS-11 in Louisville has a copy of a statement from Gov. Steve Beshear issued today regarding House Bill 189, which seeks to raise the mandatory attendance age for students to 18 years old.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville, was approved by the House Education Committee on Tuesday, and Beshear expressed concerns about its impact on state finances.

Here’s what Beshear told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday –

“In our current financial situation, I’m not sure we can address that because I’m not sure we can afford that,” Gov. Steve Beshear said in an interview Tuesday. But it is something I think we ought to continue discussing and try to find some answers to — whether that’s raising the dropout age or finding some other answers to lower the dropout rate,” he said.

Today, Hebert received the following clarifying statement from Beshear on the issue –

“I want to clarify some statements I made yesterday regarding a proposal by Rep. Yonts to raise the state’s drop-out age. Let me be clear: I support increasing the drop-out age and I appreciate the continued leadership and passion that Rep. Yonts has demonstrated on this important issue. Increasing the drop-out age would be one part of what must be a multi-faceted strategy to forge a substantial reduction. Increased educational attainment is one of the chief priorities we must have as a state, if we are to create the skilled workforce necessary to compete in a global economy. Creating such a strategy, in fact, is the goal of the First Lady’s drop-out summit, which will be held this year. That said, my concern remains how we handle during this budgetary crisis the fiscal impact of an immediate increase in the drop-out age. For example, I don’t think anyone who supports education wants to make a choice between increasing the drop-out age or cutting funding for SEEK or health care. Moving backward in those areas would contribute to the rate of drop-outs as well. In my judgment, increasing the drop-out age should be a matter of when, not if. The question in my mind is simply how – and in what time frame – we find the money.”

Beshears announce cost-saving measures for state’s Kentucky Derby celebration

Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear announced plans today to cut $200,000 from the cost of the state’s annual Kentucky Derby celebration at the state Capitol grounds in May.

Citing tough financial times, the state will do away with the expansive tents that have housed the celebration and will begin charging for the breakfast that is open to the public and has traditionally been free.

“As governor and as first lady, we think we need to enjoy our Derby festivities,” Beshear told reporters. “It is tradition after all, but we must be responsible about it.”

The rental and installment of the tents has cost the state about $117,000 in the past, and will be replaced by picnic tables spread throughout the Capitol grounds.

Visitors to the celebration, which is open to the public, will also pay $1 per breakfast item instead of receiving a free breakfast that has carried a $70,000 price tag in the past. On this menu this year are sausage, ham and chicken biscuits, coffee, juice and muffins.

The state is also doing away with the Derby train that took guests of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet from downtown Frankfort to Churchill Downs. The perk has been used as a way to introduce business prospects to the state and try to attract investment in Kentucky, but costs the state at least $26,000.

Beshear plans to cut back on expenditures for the Friday night dinner held for Economic Development Cabinet guests at the governor’s mansion as well.

Instead of printing and mailing thousands of formal invitations at a cost of more than $11,000, the state will instead advertise in newspapers and e-mail invites to cut back on costs.

Among the added attractions this year will be a farmer’s market featuring Kentucky products and a drive to benefit food pantries around the state.

“Everyone we’re working with … all agree that this is the direction we need to go,” Beshear said. “We’ll be right here, and if I have a biscuit, I’ll pay.”

Gov. Beshear posts weekly address

Gov. Steve Beshear has begun posting weekly commentaries on his Web site, and offered his second installment this week.

Here’s the latest which deals with Kentucky Speedway in northern Kentucky and its push to be home to a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. 

Here is last week’s edition – the first one – in case you missed it.

Beshear releases general plan for use of federal stimulus dollars

Gov.  Steve Beshear released a general overview of how Kentucky will use the estimated $3 billion the state expects to receive under the federal economic stimulus package. 

Beshear released the breakdown following a press conference this afternoon with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson about the plan. 

The governor plans to create a state Web site to track the spending similar to what is proposed on the federal level for the stimulus package. 

“These are tax dollars and public deserves to know how their money is being spent,” Beshear said in a statement.

The initiative Beshear is calling “Kentucky at Work” includes – 

  • Medicaid: Kentucky’s Medicaid program will receive about $990 million over the next two years. The program currently faces a $232 million deficit this year, while demand for services is increasing by about 3,000 people a month due to the economy.
  • Health and welfare: Kentucky will receive about $272 million for areas like public housing, weatherization, child care, child support enforcement and homelessness prevention.
  • Education: Kentucky will receive about $924 million in stimulus money. Approximately $535 million will be used to preserve existing commitments to K-12 and higher education, as well as to continue efforts to hold down the cost of tuition. The remaining $389 million, administered through the Kentucky Department of Education, will go to Title 1, Head Start, technology and school lunch programs and other programs that help families in crisis.
  • General Fund: Kentucky will receive nearly $120 million to help address critical shortfalls in priority areas and mitigate against even deeper cuts over the next two fiscal years.
  • Job training and public safety: The commonwealth will receive $66 million in job training and workforce development dollars. In the area of public safety, Kentucky will receive about $30 million to combat violence against women and to support criminal justice efforts at both the state and local levels.
  • Roads and Bridges: Kentucky will receive $421 million for highways and bridges. Gov. Beshear and legislative leaders have been working together on a road plan that contains projects that meet the federal government’s requirement that 50 percent of those funds be obligated within 120 days. Projects must be shovel-ready.
  • Transit: About $50 million will be allocated for transit.
  • Water and Sewer lines: Kentucky will receive about $71 million for water and sewer infrastructure.
  • Community Development: The state will be allocated some $12 million for local community development block grants.
  • Energy Projects: About $63 million will be allocated to Kentucky for energy initiatives.