Urges collaboration to maintain momentum on economy, improving workforce
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 8, 2015) — Gov. Steve Beshear delivered his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night, declaring that “our vision is working” while urging legislators to remain focused on the long-term strategies and collaborative relationship that have lifted Kentucky out of its economic doldrums.
Describing record-setting improvements in key economic measures like unemployment rates, new businesses, capital investment and exports, as well as trend-setting reform in education and health care, Beshear said Kentucky had regained the national leadership position it had held centuries ago.
“We can hold our heads high once again,” he said. “Because Kentucky is back, and we’re back with a vengeance. … In the public and private halls of power, where the issues of today are being hammered out, Kentucky has become – once again – a national example of leadership and success.”
Originally scheduled for February, the address was moved up because Beshear has been invited to Europe to speak at an international gathering of auto manufacturers.
He used the invitation as an example of the increased global presence of Kentucky’s advanced manufacturing industry. He described in detail numbers and rankings that show how far Kentucky’s economy has come in the last seven years, including a drop in the unemployment rate from 10.7 percent to 6 percent; four straight years of record exports; the nation’s highest percentage growth in new business in 2013; and almost $10 billion in new business investment through the performance-based Incentives for a New Kentucky program overhauled in 2009.
He cited an official Federal Reserve evaluation that concluded Kentucky’s economy had not only recovered losses suffered during the recession but had moved on to its highest-ever economic activity.
“In other words our economy had hit bottom, bounced off that bottom and now has so much momentum that we’ve bounced higher than we were when the struggle started,” Beshear said.
Beshear described the progress made over the last seven years in turning around a “broke and broken” state government, including a new ethics policy, a culture of integrity and public trust, and “common sense” spending in state government.
He described a steady move toward a healthier, more highly trained and educated workforce made possible by nation-leading gains in health care access, a soon-to-be expanded apprentice program in advanced manufacturing, stunning gains in high school graduation rates and college/career readiness, and progress in kicking Kentucky’s prescription drug habit.
“My top priority has been to create a workforce that executives can’t wait to hire,” Beshear said, saying Kentucky’s progress has been the result of a comprehensive, long-range plan that emerged from a realization that short-term strategies by themselves weren’t enough. I wanted Kentucky to emerge from this fiscal crisis not shell-shocked and shattered but able and ambitious, poised and capable of doing great things. I wanted us to do more than survive. I wanted us to thrive. Long term.”
Beshear said Kentucky needs to take steps to address continued weaknesses and accelerate its momentum, and he challenged the legislature to work with him to do so.
“Not every Kentuckian who wants a job has one. Not every family has financial security. Good health is a luxury some people still can’t afford. And too many Kentucky graduates enter the workforce unprepared,” he said. “You can’t fix weaknesses like these overnight.”
Beshear laid out a series of legislative proposals that could help improve the health, education, safety and capability of Kentucky’s workforce, as well as improve Kentucky’s economic infrastructure.
Among those issues are:
In 2011, five percent of people who died from drug overdoses in Kentucky had heroin in their bloodstream, Beshear said. In 2013, that had risen to 32 percent. He used that figure as one example of how increasing use of the illegal drug is devastating families.
Beshear urged the legislature to pass comprehensive legislation that does a variety of things, including expanding access to drugs that immediately reverse the effects of overdoses; protecting law enforcement and health care workers from needle sticks; expanding access to treatment; enhancing penalties for major traffickers; and protecting users from minor drug charges when they call 911 to help an overdose victim.
“No single change in the law is enough. Like we did with prescription drugs, we have to attack this problem from all angles,” Beshear said. “Our families are looking for solutions —not political rhetoric and posturing.”
Kentucky is one of the few states not to provide domestic violence protection to dating couples. More than 14 percent of high school students in Kentucky reported being the victim of dating violence, one of the highest numbers in the country. That number only gets worse when our young women get to college. And national studies show that over one-fourth of women over 65 have experienced violence at the hands of a partner.
Beshear reiterated his ongoing support for statewide smoke-free legislation that protects workers, children and others from toxic cigarette smoke in public.
“Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the nation and when it comes to preventable illnesses and deaths, every single study concludes that nothing is as devastating to Kentucky as smoking and tobacco use,” Beshear said.
He noted that two-thirds of states and many Kentucky communities already have smoke-free laws, and he cited a new survey that shows that two-thirds of Kentucky adults favor such a law, as well as a similar survey of Kentucky Chamber of Commerce members.
Kentucky requires booster seats for children under 7 years old who are between 40 and 50 inches tall, but federal highway safety officials and pediatricians recommend booster seats for children up to age 9 and 57 inches tall, because it’s safer.
Beshear urged legislators to strengthen Kentucky’s laws like 32 states — including all of Kentucky’s neighboring states – have done, saying “our failure to act is putting kids at risk.”
Early childhood programs
Beshear asked legislators to add accountability and transparency to all of Kentucky’s early child care facilities by implementing the goals of the Accelerating Learning Statewide Through an Advanced Rating System (All-STARS).
All-STARS addresses safety, continuing education for staff members, nutrition and age-appropriate curriculum.
“We have health ratings for restaurants. Aren’t our children just as important?” he asked.
Beshear expressed support for expanding Kentucky’s public-private partnership, or P3, laws to allow this financing mechanism for transportation projects.
Kentucky already uses public-private partnerships for a variety of projects and services, including marinas at our state parks, the new residence halls at the University of Kentucky and managed care in the Medicaid program. The commonwealth also signed an agreement last month to use a P3 model to expand high-speed broadband access around the state.
But P3 agreements can’t be used for highway and bridge projects.
“Kentucky has large gaps in our road and bridge system, and federal resources aren’t enough to fill those gaps,” Beshear said. “Using current procurement and financing mechanisms, we are simply not equipped to tackle these ‘super-projects’ in a timely manner without squeezing out local projects.”
P3 legislation passed in the 2014 session but was vetoed by Beshear because a late amendment prohibited tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge.
The governor also urged the General Assembly to approve:
- A constitutional amendment that will allow local communities to vote on a local sales tax for specific infrastructure projects they may need.
- A governing mechanism for a previously approved regional development fund designed to encourage strategic investments in Appalachia as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative.
- Updates that protect receipt of Master Settlement Agreement funds long into the future, given a legal settlement last year that brought stability and certainty to Kentucky’s receipt of these tobacco settlement funds.
- A certification program for businesses owned by veterans disabled in the line of duty that provides the same recognition and opportunity enjoyed by women- and minority-owned businesses.
- Offender re-entry, which prohibits public agencies and licensing boards from automatically discriminating against people with criminal records.