Beshear Laments Finances, Avoids Casinos In State Of Commonwealth

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear warned Monday that Kentucky faces tough financial times ahead but offered words of optimism that the state may be strengthened by the hardship.

In his first State of the Commonwealth address, Beshear lamented a "budget crisis" that he said will "reduce our ability to make major new investments in some important priorities." The speech mirrored others he has given since taking office last month.

"It is my duty and my responsibility to inform you that we have some tough times ahead," he said. "The revenue outlook is grim. Because of the economic slowdown, the cooling of the housing market, oil prices and a gap between what we spend and what we earn, we are facing an unprecedented budgetary shortfall."

Beshear, who received a standing ovation when he arrived to speak to a joint session of the House and Senate shortly after 7 p.m. EST, said raising taxes will be a last resort. And he made no mention of his proposal to legalize casinos in the state, a move that the Democratic governor says could generate $500 million a year in additional revenue for state government.

"So that leaves cutting government spending," Beshear said. "We can bring more efficiency out of state government, and I intend to do just that."

Though necessary, Beshear said spending cuts will require painful sacrifices.

"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," he said.

Beshear, who defeated former Gov. Ernie Fletcher in November, brushed on some of his campaign promises in the speech, many of which came with a hefty price tag. He said Monday he remains "fully committed" to helping senior citizens with prescription drug costs, offering more college financial aid, improving the state's public schools, shoring up the state's financially troubled employee retirement system and creating more jobs for Kentuckians. The budget crisis, he said, has hampered his ability to make major investments in his priorities.

"It is not a time for whining or 'woe is us,"' he said. "It is a time for leadership, bold action and temporary cost cutting."

Some lawmakers were surprised that Beshear didn't mention casinos in the speech.

"I wouldn't think that he would have given up on the idea," said Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. "It's rather strange. It was kind of the big elephant in the room that nobody mentioned tonight, you know, so I don't really know an explanation to that."

Beshear had made a proposal to open casinos in Kentucky a centerpiece of his election campaign. He wants lawmakers to put a referendum on the ballot so that Kentucky voters can decide whether to amend the state constitution to legalize casinos.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he expects Beshear to raise the casino issue when he delivers his budget proposals to lawmakers later this month.

The state's financial problems have a bright side, Beshear said. "It is an opportunity to make every state agency leaner, more efficient and more responsive."

Beshear said he wants to restore people's trust in state government, and he reminded lawmakers that he is proposing ethics reforms, one of which would revamp the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

"I am hopeful that these measures will restore some of that trust in government, which is so critical to our success," he said.

Beshear also called on lawmakers to cooperate in finding solutions to the state's problems. He urged them to avoid political bickering.

"This crisis can indeed be a positive turning point for Kentucky," he said.

Richards said Beshear has grappled with financial woes from the moment he took office, but was able to be optimistic despite those problems.

"So, I felt very good about the speech," Richards said. "I thought it was uplifting and was really good and set a good tone."

---Associated Press writer Joe Biesk contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • by Jethro Location: Rat Cheer on Jan 15, 2008 at 03:05 PM
    Skyhawk, I don't think he could have come in blind and see that big a picture in such a short time. This large a ruse would take most folks a while to concoct. But then again, snake oil salesmen are quick witted. I think he turned some numbers around to make us think we are going down the tubes, but didn't bring it up during the campaign because then his claims would have been challenged. Did Fletcher use smoke and mirrors? I agree, all Gov.s have to some extent. Can funds be moved and not missed for months? Yes, especially by a legislature of one party, and an executive branch of another, and it is a two way street. Is Ky. in need of funds? We always have been. Is it as bad as Stevie says? I highly doubt it, so help yourself with future requests Gov. Be honest, build credibility, and your support can only improve. Get caught lying and you won't be able to overcome the resistance to your ideas, regardless of their merit.
  • by skyhawk Location: Lexington on Jan 15, 2008 at 12:42 PM
    Jethro, yes the budget is public record, but you can switch monies around from one dept. to another and you won't see that for months. That's what I was calling smoke and mirrors. As I said, Ernie only did what others before him have done and Steve knows that, but he couldn't see the whole picture until after taking office.
  • by Jethro Location: Rat Cheer on Jan 15, 2008 at 12:11 PM
    Skyhawk, with the budget being public record, Beshear was able to study it very closely during his campaign. That tells me there were no surprises waiting for him. He didn't just read that many pages and digest it all in the first couple of days in office. But you are right in a way, he may not have understood how "bad" it was, but he knows how to make it look worse than bad. If Fletch was so deceitful, where was the media expose? Surely you don't think the media was letting him slide. Zatoichi, where ya been? You can say so much with so few words! If casinos are brought in under control of the wrong bunch, then only a few will profit. Bring them in, with the right controls, to say, Pikeville, Hazard, London, Somerset, bowling Green, Hopkinsville, and Mayfield. That would attract folks from TN, VA, WV, MO, and IL. The added traffic could fund I-66 to connect them all. We could call it the road to prosperity.
  • by skyhawk Location: Lexington on Jan 15, 2008 at 11:03 AM
    Zatoichi, that's right, every time my Wife and I go to the boats thats all we see, drunk rednecks and hood rats. Heck there ain't nutin rong with all that there mony goin to them there hoosers. We sur as heck dont ned it her!
  • by Zatoichi Location: Richmond on Jan 15, 2008 at 10:30 AM
    skyhawk, you are correct. casinos are a step in the right direction.....I'll drink to that.....hiccup! Happy daze are here again...
  • by skyhawk Location: Lexington on Jan 15, 2008 at 07:22 AM
    Jethro, I understand what you are saying but in his defense he didn't know exactly how bad the situation was until he took office. I said a long time ago that Fletcher was using smoke and mirrors about the budget situation but in his defense also it was no different than past Govs. The casinos are not a cure all but it is a step in the right direction.
  • by WOW on Jan 15, 2008 at 06:24 AM
    Who didn't see this coming? A Dem bashing a Repub in a round about way. It would be the same if a Repub replaced a Dem. They all are crooks but now he'll raise taxes to fund those liberal projects like giving stuff to those who don't want to work for it.
  • by Tina Location: McCreary on Jan 15, 2008 at 06:15 AM
    The Highway 92 project is a big waste of the states money. The McCreary county portion could be make wider with a few passing lanes. The state is buying property and homes for a project that is not needed. This will cost Millions!!
  • by Jethro Location: Rat Cheer on Jan 14, 2008 at 10:53 PM
    23 minutes to tell us that he promised things he could not pay for. Some of us saw that coming when he made those promises. $500 million from casinos sounds like a lot of money, but is a small percentage of the state budget. A small enough figure to easily be soaked up by pet projects. However, I do recognize that a lot of cash is leaving Ky. for casinos along our borders, and welcome a means to offset that loss. I just don't beleive it is a cure-all.


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