Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear reaffirmed his support for a teachers’ pay raise Tuesday evening in his first State of the Commonwealth speech to the Republican-dominated legislature.
Speaking to a statewide television audience, the state’s new Democratic governor laid out a broad agenda that includes protecting health-care coverage, tackling criminal-justice reform, ending cuts to higher education and embracing new gaming-related revenues.
Beshear, who made support for public schools the hallmark of his successful campaign, said education is the key to breaking cycles of poverty plaguing the state.
“It’s time to come together, all of us, in support of public education,” he said. “This is a new opportunity, a new start with a new governor, where we can all pledge to lift up our communities by supporting and investing in our public schools. We can wipe the slate clean, and we can move forward in support of public education together.”
Beshear said the budget he submits later this month will include his campaign pledge for a $2,000 across the board pay raise for teachers.
“We’ve figured out how to give tax incentives to corporations, so I know we can figure out how to pay a living wage to the men and women who get up at the crack of dawn every morning to go open their classrooms, stay up late grading papers and give everything they can so our Kentucky children have every opportunity,” Beshear said.
Beshear also pledged to support fully funding the state’s public pension obligations — another big-ticket promise from his successful campaign. He urged lawmakers to take on the health-care issue as part of the road map for a brighter future for the state.
“That requires that our Kentucky families don’t have to worry about losing health care coverage because of a preexisting condition,” he said. “I hear members of both parties say those very words. So 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 urged lawmakers to pass legislation to curb the costs of insulin to help the 530,000 Kentuckians who have diabetes. He also embraced legislation to end surprise medical billing.
The governor also urged lawmakers to tackle criminal justice reform to reverse the state’s skyrocketing corrections costs. Such a package should reduce prison populations and reduce repeat offending rates. It also needs to “consolidate and not expand our state prison institutions.”
The Tuesday evening event was the first of two major speeches the governor will deliver to lawmakers this month. Beshear will present his budget plans to lawmakers in late January.
Kentucky entered an era of divided government when Beshear was elected governor last year. He has stressed the need for civility as he and lawmakers work on state policy.