Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear focused on the ‘light in darkness’ in the first-ever virtual State of the Commonwealth address.
Beshear outlined his 2021 goals for the state Jan. 7 while reflecting on an unprecedented year for Kentuckians.
“It is hard to believe just how much can change in a single year,” said Beshear.
His “Team Kentucky” vision and values for his administration hasn’t changed, but he acknowledged that priorities must shift as Kentuckians ‘rise to the occasion’ to move forward after the COVID-19 pandemic, associated economic crisis and political strife.
“We have been at war,” said Beshear of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This evil virus has taken more than 27000 of our fellow Kentuckians. That toll is heartbreaking.”
Since the first positive case of COVID-19 was reported in the state March 6, 2020, Beshear has been working to slow the spread of the virus and protect Kentuckians at the advisement of experts.
He pointed to how aggressive actions taken by the state likely saved lives, comparing the number of deaths to nearby states with much higher losses.
“When the full story of this pandemic is told,” he said. “Team Kentucky will stand tall on how we took care of one another.”
Beshear then turned to looking ahead at what will be needed for Kentucky to sustain and rebuilding its economic in a post-pandemic world.
Through his first year, Beshear has announced $2.4 billion in new and expanding projects that are projected to create more than 8000 new jobs. This includes supporting rural communities, diversifying regional economies and building the state’s agricultural businesses.
Despite a challenging year, he said the state’s budget is balanced and it’s “Rainy Day Fund” is at its highest level ever, setting the state up for future success.
“My Better Kentucky Budget is built on three pillars,” he said. “Relief for small business and Kentucky families; prioritizing our people; and bold investment in our future.”
2021 Budget Suggestions
Beshear hopes the Republican-run legislature will approve a one-year budget for the state to encourage growth and overcome the negative impacts of COVID-19.
Creating funds for small business relief and individual relief in the form of unemployment benefits and insurance are planned. He specifically called on Kentucky’s General Assembly to provide an additional $100 million to go toward unemployment insurance loans.
He also suggested supporting of programs for early education, teacher loan forgiveness, workforce development and other educational funding.
Other pay-related proposals included:
$1000 salary increase for teachers and all school employees
1% raise for state employees
$600 stipend increase for law enforcement and firefighters
Full exclusion of military pensions from Kentucky income tax
“The shock of COVID-19 has brought on our current transformational period,” he said. “How we lead in the next year will dictate whether Kentucky simply recovers back to the old normal or, instead, takes its place among the most productive and innovative states in the union.”
Programs to address aging infrastructure, health and broadband access inequities in rural communities, and emerging industries like agri-tech are also included in the 2021 budget proposal. Legalizing medical marijuana, passing sports betting and saving historic horse racing were also mentioned as ways to spur growth and innovation.
“This is likely one of the most important and formative years for Kentucky in a generation both for our economy and for the soul of our country,” he remarked. “Let’s get to work on building a better Kentucky.”