FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- Gov.-elect Andy Beshear says Kentucky will be getting his full attention and public education, pensions, healthcare and jobs will be the hallmark of the administration.
In a wide-ranging interview with Kentucky Today on Thursday, Beshear said he was looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. His inauguration day is Tuesday.
“There is so much opportunity in this state and an opportunity right now to set a tone and an example that we have more in common as Kentuckians that can ever tear us apart,” he said. “Our commitment to serving our families right here in Kentucky is more important than any national division.”
While Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget director, John Chilton, issued a gloomy forecast this week showing a potential budget deficit of more than $1 billion over the next two fiscal years, starting July 1, 2020, Beshear said he wasn’t alarmed and it will come down to priorities.
“There is never going to be enough money for everything we want to do, so the question is, what is most important to us?”
Education: Job one
He says for him that starts with public education and it will likely start with a new board of education and commissioner, action that he plans to put into motion on day one.
“We’re going to ensure that we do everything we can to provide opportunity for every single child to receive a world class education,” he said. “We’re going to make sure our first draft budget includes a $2,000 raise across the board for teachers in Kentucky, because a teacher shortage harms the current and future education of each and every one of our children.”
Postsecondary education is also a priority, Beshear said. “We are one of only a handful of states that, coming out of the recession, is still cutting higher education. That’s not a group that we want to be in. College is becoming more and more unaffordable for Kentucky students. You look at per capita income, we’re the third-poorest state in the country. That lines up almost directly with percentage of adults with a college degree.”
He says people pit four-year college degrees against vocational education.
“We don’t have enough students going to either. What we have to do is get every student into one track or the other, we’ve got to make sure both tracks are affordable and that will create the type of workforce that will be the envy of the nation.”
To pay for it, Beshear says, Kentucky needs to enhance revenue in several potential ways and he’s anxious to see how that lines up with the Republican-led General Assembly. Despite Republican leadership not having much of an appetite for it, the governor-elect says he will support sports betting in a “regulated setting”.
“That can create new and needed revenue that ought to go toward our pension system, but also takes a widespread practice. Move it over into a regulated setting, where we can make sure that people don’t go too far,” he said. “When virtually every bet is electronic that is made on sports betting, it means that you can set caps and limits, and you can know when someone is going too far and make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Another potential revenue source is medicinal marijuana, where he says he sees some bipartisan support.
“I believe that should be revenue positive and would help get extra votes that are needed (in the General Assembly),” he said. “Creating the infrastructure around medicinal marijuana to do it right, to do it safely, to make sure that there are real prescriptions and controls, will also create a number of jobs and create an industry that creates new tax dollars.”
Casino gaming as revenue source
Beshear says he will also be pushing for casino gaming because Kentucky is losing “hundreds of millions of dollars every year.”
He said the states surrounding Kentucky – Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee and West Virginia – are all benefiting from it at the expense of the commonwealth.
“You could go on and on, and this is simply where the world has moved. So, let’s do it now and let’s do it responsibly.”
During his four years as Kentucky attorney general, Beshear filed several lawsuits against Gov. Matt Bevin and laws passed by the General Assembly, ranging from boards and commissions to pro-life legislation. He was asked that since he will be on the other side, how those cases will proceed.
“We are still analyzing the pending lawsuits that deal with the Governor’s office and the executive branch,” he said. “After December 10, we’ll be making decisions on each of those lawsuits individually. What people can expect is that I follow the law. Sometimes the law falls in line with people’s beliefs and sometimes it doesn’t. But the law that has been passed, provided it’s not currently being challenged and has been upheld, is still the law.”
Action in first week
Beshear says during his first week in office, expect to see a reorganization of the State Board of Education, something he talked about doing on the campaign trail.
“I believe everyone would agree, it’s one of the issues that propelled us to victory and it’s the will of the people,” he said. “We’re going to have a new board of education that supports public education, and they are going to begin the process of the nationwide search for a new commissioner of education.”
He noted the previous commissioner was chosen that way.
“The current commissioner (Wayne Lewis) was a direct employee of the current governor, who was selected without that type of search. We ought to do the process that gives us the best of the best.”
Another early action will involve restoring voting rights to almost 140,000 non-violent felons, Beshear said. “They have served their time, they are trying to be productive members of society. They should get to exercise the bedrock principle of our democracy, which is voting.”
Beshear says he is also going to start taking steps to rescind Gov. Bevin’s Medicaid waiver. “Gov. Bevin’s waiver would kick 95,000 people off their healthcare and cost us several hundred million dollars. It’s not the right thing to do morally and it’s not the right thing to do fiscally.”
When his father, Steve Beshear, was governor, he created Kynect for Kentuckians to receive access to health care. Andy Beshear is expected to restore that program.
“Kynect was the most successful state-run health exchange in the country,” he said. “It was the gold standard for this nation. My commitment is to get Kentucky back to being the gold standard in how we provide health care, that we have access in some form, whether it’s the private market or expanded Medicaid, to all Kentuckians and that we work to lower costs for absolutely everyone. We’ll look at all different options on how we make that the case.”
Beshear’s bottom line as he prepares to take office: “What people can expect from me as governor is, I’m practical. I see the needs our people have, none of which are partisan: education, jobs, healthcare, and retirements of our people. I’m going to find the best way to get us the best results. Now, if that idea comes from one side of the aisle or the other, I don’t care, as long as it helps our people.”