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Beshear Delivers First 'State Of The Commonwealth' Address

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear used his first major speech to a joint session of the General Assembly to press for teacher raises, healthcare guarantees for those with pre-existing conditions, and a return to civility. Reviews of the State of the Commonwealth address, however, were split down party lines.

Keeping with the conciliatory tone he's struck since taking office, Beshear reiterated his call for full funding of state pensions, infrastructure investments, and an across-the-board $2,000 raise for teachers.

"We've figured out how to give tax incentives to corporations, so I know we can figure out how to pay a living wage to the men and women who get up at the crack of dawn every morning to open their classrooms, stay late to grade papers, and give everything they can so our children have every opportunity," the Democrat said.

Also on the governor's agenda: a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for non-violent felons who have served their time, ending surprise medical billing, reforming the state's criminal justice system, and a hint that his upcoming budget may halt or reverse Kentucky's post-recession cuts to higher education.

As for funding, Beshear again pinned most of his hopes on expanded gaming ⁠— an initiative Republicans say is dead on arrival in the General Assembly.

While GOP leaders in the chambers had a positive reaction to the "pleasant" vibe of the speech, not everyone was sold on Beshear's overtures.

Senate majority leader Damon Thayer said Beshear "continues to call for all this bipartisanship and everybody 'can't we just get along,' when nearly every action he's taken since becoming governor is hyperpartisan."

Louisville Democrat Morgan McGarvey said the governor is keeping promises.

"We know he's reached out to Republican leadership already. We know he's gone to the House caucus. What you're seeing is a different tone and a spirit of working together in a budget year," the minority leader told reporters.

While Democratic lawmakers liked what they heard in the speech, Republican leaders say they detected little that would change their minds about the governor's chief revenue-generating proposal: expanded gambling.

In a press conference following the speech, House Speaker David Osborne threw cold water on the idea, saying Beshear's estimate of $500m in annual state revenue from gaming was wildly inflated and the governor offered no new ideas to dig the state out of its financial hole.

"It was nice to hear that he is committed to fully funding pensions, but we know with those additional costs that we are well short and with the exception of expanded gambling he's offered no way to pay for any of that wishlist," the GOP leader said.

Republican leaders in both chambers sounded open to a sports betting bill, though neither would commit to a floor vote if the measure passes committee.

Beshear will return to the chamber in two weeks to deliver his vision for the state's two year spending plan.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.