Beshear called on the legislature to work in a bipartisan manner and to put party politics aside.“We have to take on the big challenges, not do what is politically safe,” Beshear said.
He stressed the need for investing in infrastructure, workforce training and education, announcing that he would speed up the Mountain Parkway project in eastern Kentucky and build the I-69 bridge in western Kentucky. Other key infrastructure issues mentioned by Beshear included ensuring that all Kentuckians have access to clean drinking water and high-speed internet.
Beshear said his administration would prioritize public education in his “education-first budget,” saying that he will include a $2,000 pay raise for all teachers and fully fund the pension system. “Investing in our schools means investing in our teachers, and those teachers deserve a raise,” Beshear said.
Healthcare and criminal justice reform also were listed as priorities.
“This session, let’s pass a state law ensuring no one can lose coverage in this state, ever again, based on a preexisting condition,” he said.
Beshear discussed lowering the cost of insulin.
Criminal justice reform “must reduce the overall size of our incarcerated population,” Beshear said. “We have one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and in the world. Our people aren’t more violent. We don’t have more criminals. We just put more people in our prisons and jails.”
Nearly half of those incarcerated in Kentucky are county inmates. A majority of county jails are near or more than full capacity, with some exceeding capacity by more than 200 percent.
A significant driver of incarceration in Kentucky is the drug and opioid epidemic, which Beshear called “the challenge of our times.” He expressed appreciation for Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s efforts to continue lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“Let’s not sugarcoat it,” Beshear said. “Opioid manufacturers and distributors fueled this crisis. They have the blood of our loved ones on their hands, and they must be held responsible and made part of the solution.”
The governor announced that he supports legalizing casino gambling and HB 137, which would legalize sports wagering in the state. HB 137 is sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig,
“All of our neighboring states – most all of them Republican led – have embraced expanded gaming, while we are being left behind,” Beshear said. “We're seeing $500 million in gaming revenues cross our borders, and it's time to stop that flow.”
Beshear closed his speech saying that he was honored to serve as the governor, and he looks forward to working with the legislature on these issues.
“Our Kentucky motto is United We Stand, Divided We Fall. I believe that deeply. I look forward to working with all of you and the rest of Team Kentucky,” he said.
On Jan. 28, 2020, Beshear will present his budget, which can be viewed on KET.org.