State Of Commonwealth Address

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Broaching an especially touchy subject in
Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear called Wednesday for "a thorough
review" of aging education reforms that brought landmark changes
to schools in the state.
"Kentucky impressed the nation in 1990 with its commitment to
reshaping its school system, and the benefits for our children and
our state have been significant and measurable," Beshear said
Wednesday night. "But that was nearly two decades ago."
The first-term Democrat raised the issue in a State of the
Commonwealth speech delivered to a joint session of the House and
"Let us now bring together education, business and legislative
leaders to not only check our course and see if any corrective
steering is necessary," Beshear said.
One of the state's most respected education advocates quickly
endorsed the governor's recommendation.
"I think it's a great idea," said Bob Sexton, executive
director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a group
of leading Kentuckians who helped usher through the 1990 reforms.
"It's exactly what needs to be done. It's time to look at
everything. Look at what's worked. Look at what's not."
Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, is sponsoring legislation that would
undo some of the reforms, including way children are now tested to
gauge the effectiveness of schools and teachers. Beshear stopped
short of endorsing any specific changes to the Kentucky Education
Reform Act, opting instead to recommend a fresh look be taken.
In a broad-ranging speech, Beshear also praised Kentuckians in
the aftermath of last week's devastating ice storm blamed for the
deaths of 27 people. Beshear said the hardships continue some eight
days after the storm that knocked out power to more than 700,000
customers in the state.
"For many, the hardship continues," Beshear said. "I pledge
to Kentucky that we will not rest until the last home has power,
the last road is passable and the last family is safe."
Beshear said the storm and its aftermath is a reminder of the
mission of Kentucky's state government, which is in the midst of a
financial crisis that could force cuts in basis services.
"Our challenge is complex," Beshear said. "We must and we
will solve the budget challenge before us, but that solution must
allow us to continue making progress, however measured, on the
vexing problems that hold Kentucky back."
Beshear said the state's economic problems are "as steep and
stubborn" as any in history and have contributed to a $456 million
revenue shortfall this fiscal year.
"This situation is no mere bump in the road," he said. "It
represents a threat that jeopardizes the fundamental function of
government itself."
To generate additional money, Beshear called again Wednesday for
a cigarette tax hike that would generate needed revenue. The
state's cigarette tax now is 30 cents a pack, the fourth lowest in
the nation.
Though Beshear previously has called for raising the tax to $1 a
pack, he did not specify an amount in his speech on Wednesday.
"The people of this state overwhelmingly support a significant
increase in tobacco taxes," Beshear said. "You see, Kentuckians
are not anti-tax. They are anti-unnecessary taxes."
The governor also called for bipartisan cooperation in dealing
with the state's financial problems.
"There is a time for political combat," Beshear said. "But
that time is not now. There is a time to stress partisan
differences. But that time is not now. Now is the time to ignore
party labels."
The proposed cigarette tax hike is part of a broader plan to
deal with the state's financial woes. Beshear said the plan is not
perfect, but that it represents "a clear-eyed recognition of the
economic realties confronting our state."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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