Editor’s note: Click here to read the transcript of Gov. Beshear’s speech
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 4, 2023) – In his State of the Commonwealth Address tonight, Gov. Andy Beshear said the commonwealth is strong and the future bright, with 2023 presenting the opportunity to turn two amazing years of historic progress into decades of lasting prosperity.
“2023 provides a special opportunity for the state and for this legislative session to change everything for the better,” Gov. Beshear said. “To be the generation that puts aside partisanship and ushers Kentucky into a new era of prosperity.”
Throughout his address, he recognized challenges from the pandemic, natural disasters and rebuilding communities, as well as the enormous success Kentucky has seen, including the best two-year period for economic development and job creation, record-high budget surpluses and the longest period of the lowest unemployment rate in state history.
“In the Book of Psalms, we’re told: ‘Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ The joy of that morning – that promise of a better Kentucky – means that our children and grandchildren never have to leave this state to pursue their dreams, because no matter how big they dream, they can chase their dreams right here. A tomorrow where people don’t move from our state, but to it. Where people and businesses choose Kentucky,” Gov. Beshear said. “This promise of a better future has never been brighter, as our commonwealth has emerged from the pandemic as a national economic leader. Every day, we are winning, with company after company picking us – picking Kentucky.”
Gov. Beshear spoke about other administration advancements on mega infrastructure projects, like securing enough federal grant dollars to build the Brent Spence Companion Bridge without tolls, boosting public safety and our workforce, as well as expanding access to health care.
The Governor also unveiled his 2023 legislative proposals and said he is working with his state representative, Derrick Graham of Frankfort, to file bills this session that will further support economic growth and lift up Kentuckians for generations to come.
The first bill would make his Education First Plan law. The plan would provide a 5% pay raise for public school educators to address the 11,000 teacher vacancies and fully fund universal pre-K, which would help young parents rejoin the workforce while ensuring every child is kindergarten-ready. The plan would also provide mental health services for students and student loan forgiveness for public school teachers.
“Let’s make Kentucky a shining example of how to treat educators and our public school systems,” Gov. Beshear said.
The Governor is also asking lawmakers to finally pass legislation to legalize medical cannabis, following his executive order that allows Kentuckians with certain severe medical conditions, who meet specific requirements, to possess and use small amounts of legally purchased medical cannabis to treat their medical conditions.
In his address, the Governor recognized Chasity Harney, a mother and wife from Kenton County, who in 2019 was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at the age of 40. She said she was prescribed every form of pain medicine before turning to medical cannabis for relief. The Governor applauded her efforts to advocate for healing medicine for herself and others who are suffering.
The Governor also asked lawmakers to finally pass legislation legalizing sports betting.
To further support our workforce, the Governor is proposing a raise for all our state workers, following last year’s commitment by the Governor and lawmakers to do so. The Governor is also showing appreciation to the retirees in the state employee retirement systems by filing legislation to provide retirees with a 1.5% increase in their pension payment.
“It has been 10 long years since the last increase, and inflation has hit our retirees hard,” Gov. Beshear said.
With our record surplus, the Governor is proposing to further shore up the state employee retirement system with a $100 million investment and another $100 million to pay down the unfunded liability of the Teachers’ Retirement System.
To further build a safer commonwealth, Gov. Beshear is currently implementing the most significant reforms to Kentucky’s juvenile justice system in 20 years. To build on these efforts, and to better protect both workers and youth in these facilities, the Governor is calling on the General Assembly to help fund higher salaries, upgrades in facilities and for necessary changes to state law.
“If we double down right now. Lead with our values and put politics aside – there is nothing that we cannot achieve. Our future is brighter than it’s ever been,” Gov. Beshear said.
Throughout his address, the Governor highlighted the successes and challenges of 2022 and the stories of several Kentuckians he invited to attend.
When talking about the ongoing efforts to help families and communities rebuild after deadly tornadoes and flooding last year, the Governor thanked first responders and those representing them Wednesday night, including Kentucky State Police rescue helicopter pilots Capt. Brad Austin and Sgt. Zach Lusk, Kentucky National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Lowe and Tech Sgt. Cole Kyser, as well as Lt. Robbie Spears and Conservation Officer Bobby Owens from the Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources. Together, these teams helped rescue more than 1,300 Kentuckians. Battalion Chief Adam Sorrell and Capt. Ryan Hogsten from the Lexington Fire Department also attended to represent their Swift Water Rescue Crew members, who put their lives on the line to rescue 130 Kentuckians.
The Governor recognized Jenny Wiley State Resort Park Manager Trinity Shepherd and state park employees for helping shelter others after some of their own homes were severely impacted by the flood.
Gov. Beshear also recognized Shawn and Tammy Adams, who showed all of Kentucky what it means to truly live out our values by providing land, at no cost, for the state to build the first of several high-ground communities in Eastern Kentucky. The Governor also thanked First Lady Britainy Beshear for hosting a toy drive before Christmas for the children of Eastern Kentucky, just as she did for the children in Western Kentucky following the December 2021 tornadoes.
“We want the people of Eastern Kentucky to know that we love you, we care about you and we’re going to be there for you – every step of the way, as long as it takes,” Gov. Beshear said. “For those in the West affected by the tornadoes, we know there is much work left to be done. We remain committed, and we look forward to celebrating each milestone with you.”
The Governor gave an update on Kara McKnight, who was watching from home in Western Kentucky. Last year, months after losing her brother in a car accident, Kara’s home was taken by the tornadoes. Gov. Beshear reported that the family is in their new home, and Kara even got to design her own room.
The Governor also thanked Justice Dingle, Envision AESC’s director of operations in Bowling Green, and Jiem Cranney, the chief financial officer of BlueOval SK, for their companies’ investments in our state, which have helped solidify Kentucky as the electric vehicle battery production capital of the United States.
When talking about expanding access to health care, Gov. Beshear thanked Dr. Kelly McCants of Norton Healthcare, who led vaccination efforts in the West End of Louisville during the pandemic to ensure every family had access.
During his speech, the Governor also called on Kentuckians to never forget the law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty.
“Let us always remember their sacrifices and continue to support these families,” said Gov. Beshear. “To our law enforcement community, we love you, we support you and we need you.”