Beshear gives State of the Commonwealth Address, as GOP-led legislature outlines its own agenda
Gov. Andy Beshear delivered an upbeat State of the Commonwealth Address to a joint session of the state House and Senate Wednesday, pressing for familiar priorities amid a skeptical General Assembly.
In a speech laced with frequent mentions of special guests in the audience — ranging from representatives of law enforcement to healthcare pioneers — Beshear made the case that Kentucky is well-positioned to make major strides in the coming years.
The Democrat again pushed for more dollars for emergency recovery funds, efforts to speed up infrastructure projects, and the full funding of the Medicaid expansion.
Despite little appetite in the GOP-led legislature for 11% teacher raises and universal pre-K, Beshear characterized them as a necessity.
"We have fallen behind. Kentucky ranks 44th in starting teacher pay and 40th in average teacher pay. That is unacceptable," the governor said. "It is hard to understand why we have not come together and get this done for our educators, especially when our neighbors are figuring it out."
Beshear pointed to efforts to boost teacher pay in Tennessee and Indiana.
The governor wrapped up his address with another call for cooperation as the long 60-day session gets underway.
"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, and without hatred," Beshear said.
The address came just hours after GOP leaders outlined their priorities, which share a focus on education, infrastructure, and keeping the state's finances healthy — though they are unlikely to follow Beshear's blueprint.
The GOP Agenda
Leaders of the GOP-dominated legislature gave an update on the early priorities taking shape for the new legislative session on Wednesday.
Top of mind right now is the two-year budget, which House Speaker David Osborne says should be unveiled within the next week or two. While Republican leaders say Gov. Andy Beshear's office has made efforts to reach out this year, Osborne says the likelihood of his chamber opting for targeted teacher raises is low.
"I think you're going to see us stop short of mandating raises for particular classes of employees. I believe that those are decisions best made at the local level," the speaker explained. "I do think that you will again see us contribute significant funding that local officials will have the ability to utilize that money."
There's also little appetite in either chamber for the governor's other big campaign push — universal pre-K.
Legislation regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs, often referred to as DEI, remains a possibility, though lawmakers aren't offering details at this point. The same goes for any moves to add exceptions for rape and incest to the state's strict anti-abortion laws.
Senate President Robert Stivers says talks on the issue, which became a flashpoint in the governor's race, are underway.
"At this point in time, I can't give you any updates about what the position would be, but there is definitely discussion about exceptions and what may happen," the Republican said.
While the House focuses on crafting its budget, the Senate appears poised to take on questions about the state's energy resources, with the goal of charting a path that makes room for renewables while safeguarding against shortages or blackouts.