FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s progress in education “is in jeopardy with every dollar we cut out of education,” Gov. Steve Beshear told state lawmakers Tuesday night in his State of the Commonwealth address.
So he wants to reform the state tax code and offer voters a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to allow expanded gambling. But if lawmakers won’t go along, Beshear said, he will recommend painful cuts to other areas of government in order to reinvest in education.
He was talking to 138 lawmakers who’ve shown little inclination to raise new revenues as they, along with the governor, have cut $1.6 billion from the state budget over the past six years.
During that time, the state’s primary source for funding public schools – called SEEK – has been frozen at 2009 levels while enrollment grew. Other areas of education such as teacher development, after-school services and money for textbooks have been cut back severely.
Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, commended Beshear for pointing out the need to restore cuts to programs hit hard during the past six years, especially education. He said he is optimistic the two parties and chambers can work together to do some of the things Beshear called for.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said the state doesn’t “have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem” and problems can’t be solved “just by throwing money at them.”
But he seemed willing at least to listen after the governor’s speech. Stivers said he appreciated the governor’s tone and that all lawmakers want to support education, but he said the question now becomes how.
“We very much have an interest in a competitive tax code,” Stivers said, but again said he was interested in seeing the details of Beshear’s proposals.