Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 8, 2014

House Democrats, Beshear have positive meeting

FRANKFORT — In an election year, not much of significance happens in the General Assembly before the filing deadline, which is Jan. 28 this year.

That might be even more the case in 2014 as Republicans look to November with thoughts of overtaking the Democratic House majority which now stands at 54-46.

But it’s also the beginning of the last two years of Gov. Steve Beshear’s second term, meaning he can’t succeed himself. After six years of recessionary budget cuts, Beshear is looking to make changes this time around. But will House Democrats, perhaps nervous about holding onto their majority, want to go along?

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, seems to think they will after Beshear met informally with House Democrats behind closed doors for an hour Tuesday.

“It went very well, maybe as good as I’ve seen in 35 years up here,” Stumbo said after the meeting. He said the meeting was informal with Beshear explaining “why he is doing some things and assuring them he really wants to work with them.

“He talked a lot about politics and the upcoming races and the caucus received him very well,” Stumbo said. “It wasn’t a formal type thing; it was like sitting around the dinner table and talking.”

Beshear spoke briefly after the meeting, saying he talked to the Democrats about many of the issues — education, tax reform, expanded gambling, health care — he raised Tuesday night in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech before a joint session.

“I advised them I would be putting out a specific proposal (on tax reform),” Beshear said. “And that I am going to gather leadership of both parties and start some serious conversations and see if we can find some common ground.”

Beshear plans to meet with all 38 members of the Republican controlled Senate Thursday when senators from both parties sit down for a joint lunch, something begun last year by then newly elected Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester.

The Democratic governor said he enjoyed a good working relationship with Republican senators last year and expects that to continue.

“I’ll be meeting with the Republicans in the Senate a lot this session on a lot of different topics,” Beshear said. “We’ve had a good working relationship and I’m going to keep that up.”

Beshear told lawmakers Tuesday evening that after six years of budget cuts, Kentucky’s progress in education reform and improvements is in jeopardy. He wants more revenue — he’d like both tax reform and a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling — but he told lawmakers if they won’t agree to more money for the General Fund he’d make cuts to other programs in order to reinvest in education.

He was asked after the meeting with House Democrats if it is difficult to ask nervous Democrats in an election year to take votes on issues like tax reform, gambling and increased education spending.

“Not really,” he replied. “The Democrats up here in the House want to move this state forward. They’re very strong for reinvesting in education and obviously to do everything we can in creating jobs.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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