Beshear focuses on education, health care in annual speech - News, Weather & Sports

Beshear focuses on education, health care in annual speech

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Gov. Steve Beshear delivering the 2014 State of the Commonwealth address (Source: KET) Gov. Steve Beshear delivering the 2014 State of the Commonwealth address (Source: KET)

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Delivering his seventh State of the Commonwealth speech, Gov. Steve Beshear said he planned to restore education funding even if it meant making cuts to other programs.

Beshear made the remarks before a joint session of the Kentucky Legislature in Frankfort on January 7, the first day of the 2014 session. Education and health care made up a large portion of the governor's speech.

Although lawmakers remain divided on possible solutions, Beshear said years of stagnant education funding have left classrooms overcrowd and equipment outdated.

"I am determined to find money to reinvest in education, even if I have to make harmful cuts elsewhere to do so," Beshear said.

Beshear said he would propose raising new revenue by changing Kentucky's tax code, although he offered few specifics. He also didn't endorse one of two prefiled bills to allow voters to choose whether to bring casinos to the Commonwealth.

Rep. Jeff Hoover, the House's Republican leader, said he was "disappointed" by the lack of details.

"He didn't say what he favors, he didn't offer any specific proposal (on expanded gaming or taxes)," Hoover said. "It's easy for folks to say, 'I'm for putting it on the ballot,' when we don't know what 'it' is."

Beshear said he would again take on issues that the legislature have allowed to languish in recent years, such as supporting the expansion of Kentucky's car booster seat law to cover children up to age nine.

The governor said he would seek to cut Kentucky's worst-in-the-nation smoking rate by 10 percent by 2018. As part of that, Beshear said he supported a statewide smoking ban and that he would ask lawmakers to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

The legislature should also focus on enforcing heroin laws, he said. Kentucky's heroin-related overdose deaths have spiked from 22 in all of 2011 to 170 through the first nine months of last year.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, said he would not support the statewide smoking ban because it wasn't "the role of government" to get involved in the issue.

Stivers said he would support measures that created jobs, leading to new revenue for the state, but has said he disagreed with proposals to add new taxes.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, said the state will need to raise additional money, and suggested last Friday the possibility of a statewide sales tax increase to benefit schools.

"Do we need more money for education? I don't think there's a question we need more money for education," Stumbo said. Do we have the ability as a body to raise that money at this point? I don't think anybody really knows."

During his speech, Beshear cited the ongoing success of Kentucky's "kynect" health care program, which has earned a positive national reputation even as critics blasted the national system, and said the Commonwealth's perception has improved across the country.

"We are shrugging off a historic reputation for backwardness and instead are writing a new narrative founded on change and innovation," he said.

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