Beshear: Ky. must deal with ‘dismal’ budget

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear firmly laid out the “financially dismal” situation Kentucky will face in coming months during last night’s State of the Commonwealth Address.

In his first annual address, Beshear announced what may be a longer-term cut across the entire state government in response to an “unprecedented budgetary shortfall.”

“It is not a time for whining or ‘woe is us’ — it is a time for leadership, bold action and temporary cost cutting,” Beshear said in his speech to the Kentucky General Assembly.

Beshear’s call for funding cuts across state government follow an order for a 3 percent budget cut for almost all state agencies and public universities until the fiscal year ends in June.

Raising taxes will be a last resort, Beshear said. Instead, his administration will pursue reducing government spending.

“We can wring more efficiency out of state government and I intend to do just that,” Beshear said.

“It’s common sense, but it will require some painful sacrifices. I intend to be a fiscally responsible steward of this government. I would much prefer to be standing here today talking to you about all the new investments we’re making, but much of that will have to wait for another day.”

Along with the 3 percent cut announced two weeks ago, which amounted to a $10 million loss in state revenue for UK, Beshear called for public universities to prepare for an additional 12 percent loss.

UK President Lee Todd said that UK will continue to push for full funding of the Top 20 Business Plan, which calls for an increase in funding and faculty each year through 2020.

“We’re on an upswing now,” Todd said. “We can’t afford to stall.”

Last week Todd said the budget cut of 12 percent Beshear asked universities to prepare for would require a tuition increase of 30 percent to fund. This is an increase that “would not be an option for Kentucky,” Todd said.

In last night’s address, Beshear did not focus on higher education. However, Todd said he believes the governor should give universities funding to continue research efforts within the state.

“I do believe that if you’re trying to make a state nationally competitive, globally competitive, you’ve got to invest in higher education,” Todd said. “That’s a decision you’ve got to make.”

In last night’s speech Beshear talked about investments in new innovations in business and technology, saying that Kentucky must use “a top to bottom infusion of imagination” to generate investments and jobs.

The governor also discussed a comprehensive ethics package announced last week. The package would include:

n Passing a constitutional amendment limiting the governor’s pardoning power.

n Reducing the governor’s influence in making appointments to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

n Requiring more disclosure of donations to a public official’s legal defense fund.

n Banning lobbyists and people doing business with the state from contributing to an official’s legal defense fund.

Although Beshear called for sweeping change and substantial funding cuts throughout his speech last night, he ended his address by saying he believes Kentucky can deal with its problems.

“Yes, I have been handed an unprecedented financial problem to deal with, but the silver lining is that it will force us to change for the better, and grow,” he said.