People with local ties were watching and reacting Wednesday as Gov. Steve Beshear laid out plans for Kentucky in his State of the Commonwealth address.
The governor laid down a strong template for the legislative session, said Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville.
He tied pension reform to tax reform, which Stone said is going to be critical.
He also spoke of the importance of protecting education spending and investment, Stone said.
“The kindest word might be ‘stagnant’ with public education funding over the last four years,” he said.
There was also an emphasis on cordiality between government leaders. Stone said he’s hopeful that the lack of a legislative election this year will help reduce partisanship on big issues.
“House members like myself are always sort of close to the next election,” Stone said.
Walter Hawkins, a member of the Warren County Democratic Executive Committee, said defeating a major legislative rival in the last gubernatorial election allowed Beshear to take a long view of the political landscape in his speech. Beshear defeated former Senate President David Williams in the 2011 election.
“It was interesting that he was able to look long-term past this particular session,” Hawkins said.
Beshear asked legislators to lower the volume on political discourse and take on things such as fixes to a law designed to fight pill mills and a state smoking ban, he said.
Beshear also took an opportunity at the end of his speech to defend the role of government, saying that people oppose not government in general, but bad government, Hawkins said.
Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said Beshear’s focus on issues such as pension reform wasn’t a surprise. “The first and foremost thing we have to deal with is pension reform,” DeCesare said.
However, DeCesare is not as enthusiastic as Beshear about tax reform, which he said is just code for raising taxes. “I’m opposed to raising taxes on Kentuckians,” he said. “We just can’t afford it right now.”
Instead, he wants the legislature to talk about tax modernization that expands the tax base, DeCesare said.
DeCesare said there’s a mood among legislators that they can disagree, and it doesn’t have to get ugly. “I think personally, 99 percent of us get along with each other, and we’re friends,” he said.
However, DeCesare noted that good will among legislators has yet to be tested on the House floor.
Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said he’d like to see a concrete proposal on tax reform from Beshear. “We’ve been waiting to see what the governor put forth, and we’re still waiting,” he said.
He’s also in favor of broadening the tax base instead of raising taxes, Wilson said.
During his speech, Beshear said he wanted to lay out goals not only for the short session, but for the year. Legislators are expecting at least one special session this year.
Wilson is a sponsor on a Senate bill that would allow school districts to raise the required age of attendance to 18; it is similar to legislation to raise the drop-out age that Beshear spoke about Wednesday.
He and Beshear have the same goal of students staying in school and getting a high school diploma, but Wilson said he wants to make sure schools have time to develop the resources to deal with the change.
“We just look at it a different way,” he said.