Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear did not break much new ground with his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night. Instead, he used the nearly 30-minute speech in front of a joint session of the General Assembly in Frankfort to mainly discuss the state’s ongoing recovery from recent storms and the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was also talk of the state’s record-breaking economic development figures from last year.
With that, the Democratic governor told lawmakers that the state is in very good shape.
“I am confident, even certain, that our time – Kentucky’s time – is here,” Beshear said. “Our commonwealth is strong. It is strong because we are strong.”
For Republicans, who vastly outnumber Democrats in the legislature, strong is a relative term.
House Speaker David Osborne told reporters after the speech that it depends on how you define the state of the commonwealth.
“The fact the matter is, revenues are good, but does that mean the economy is good if you’re a small business owner looking for people to work right now,” the speaker said. “Or can’t open your doors because you can’t find a sufficient workforce? [Kentucky has its] lowest workforce participation rate we’ve had since 1972. The economy may not be so good.”
Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said it’s not safe to assume that because state tax revenues are strong that it correlates to other parts of the economy.
Stivers pointed out the increases in sales tax revenues have way outperformed increases in income taxes.
“It’s been artificially created by the federal government,” Stivers said.
Beshear called for more unity between his office and the legislature. He said it was not their job to move Kentucky “right or left, but to move it forward.”
Again, that was met with some skepticism from the Republican leaders.
Stivers said legislative leaders have been able to sit down with the governor and hold substantial talks about policies. However, those have been too few and really only started after the Kentucky Supreme Court sided with Republicans after they put checks in place on the governor’s powers during an emergency.
“I think the governor makes a good speech, and quite frankly, as policymakers, I’m not particularly worried about the words I hear in a speech,” the speaker said. “I greatly value the words that we exchange together.”
Beshear will return to the General Assembly next Thursday to present his budget address. He used some of his time Wednesday to go over parts of his proposal. Much of what he said, he had mentioned in press briefings.
The governor’s proposed budget will include “historic investments” in education and pay raises for all state workers.
“We simply cannot say that we respect and support our teachers, social workers and other state workers while removing their pensions and not providing them a raise in over a decade,” Beshear said. “And I care enough for each and every one of them to get them closer to paying them what they are worth.”
Stivers said raises are possible, but the details need to be worked out over the next few weeks.
“I think there has been created a new minimum wage not by statute, but because of what has happened in the COVID situation,” Stivers said. “How you apply that? I think we’re going to have to be competitive with the private sector. That’s the reality. Now how you do it and the logistics of it become the bigger question.”
Not all lawmakers were in attendance, although events like the state of the commonwealth are optional. Osborne declined to speculate that rapid spike in COVID-19 cases may have attributed to it. However, he did point out that even the governor scaled down the party he brought with him to the House chamber.
This article was originally posted on Kentucky’s Beshear says state of the commonwealth is strong; Republicans skeptical