Weighing in on the state budget, Beshear is exercising his line-item veto authority
Gov. Andy Beshear says the budget approved by the General Assembly contains lots of good investments, but misses the mark on teacher pay, universal pre-K, and raises for lawmakers.
First, the good, according to the governor. Beshear applauded sizeable raises given to state workers and police, major funding boosts for higher education, investments in sewer and water projects, and the creation of a state office to coordinate broadband funding, among other provisions.
"State employees know right now that they are getting an 8% raise here in this next fiscal year," the governor noted.
But the Democrat took issue with the lack of universal pre-K funding and mandatory raises for teachers. While the legislature has farmed decisions on teacher raises out to local school districts, Beshear maintained it’s within the body’s power to require them.
"The General Assembly has mandated raises for teachers and school employees in this past. They had a chance to do it and they had more money than at any time in our history since KERA (Kentucky Education Reform Act) that they could have put into it to make it happen."Gov. Andy Beshear
The governor also lamented the lack of $400 million in bonus pay for frontline workers proposed by his administration, and line item vetoed provisions giving raises to state lawmakers. Beshear said overall compensation for legislators has grown to an average of $60,000 a year.
"That is more or close to double what an average Kentuckian makes," the governor added.
To that same end, Beshear also vetoed raises for the state’s constitutional officers, including himself.
In a written statement, the state Republican Party said the governor failed to engage with the legislature in “any meaningful way” during the session, instead “chiding them from the briefing room.”
Beshear denied the charge and dismissed the criticism as politically driven.
The governor is warning the state could have more trouble processing unemployment claims in a timely fashion due to a lack of support from the General Assembly.
In the Monday budget briefing, Beshear said he rightly heard from lawmakers about the sluggish pace of claims processing during the wave of unemployment filings at the beginning of the pandemic. But now, he argues the General Assembly is standing in the way by refusing to fund 90 additional unemployment office staff, even as it prepares to saddle the office with more responsibilities.
"We in the executive branch are trying our hardest, but we're not given reasonable resources to get there and now we're being given three times the amount of work. That may make it harder to get to people's claims that otherwise we would get to."Gov. Andy Beshear
Beshear said there aren’t enough workers to staff regional unemployment offices called for by the General Assembly, and the office is still using a decades old computer system.
In past debates about the office, Republicans have said they are reluctant to agree to a permanent expansion of state government under an administration they view as having mismanaged unemployment during the pandemic.
With the GOP-led General Assembly unlikely to act on medical marijuana this year, Beshear says his office is working to explore other options to legalize the treatment.
So far any hints about what kind of executive action the administration is considering to legalize medical marijuana are vague, with the governor telling reporters the administration is in the process of gathering groups in an official capacity to offer advice.
"I'm going to have certainly our attorneys in the executive branch, as well as others that are interested, look at and explore every other option," he said. "This is the will of the people. I hope that the legislative branch will listen to it. If not, we're going to explore executive options."
The move could offer a rare chance for Beshear to that curry some favor with Republican voters, as polls suggest medical marijuana has overwhelming support across the state. A survey conducted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky in 2019 and released in 2020 found that 9 in 10 Kentuckians favored allowing the use of medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
The issue has run into stumbling blocks in the Senate, where chamber president Robert Stivers has said the efficacy and safety of the treatment needs more study. He adds the Senate may pass a bill that would empower the University of Kentucky to conduct the kind of study he hopes to see before voting on legalization.
The General Assembly is due to return to Frankfort to override or vote on new bills on Wednesday and Thursday, the final two days of the regular session for the year.