Gov. Beshear Legacy: A Kentucky Stronger at Its Core

FRANKFORT, KY. (Nov. 17, 2015) – Governor Steve Beshear summed up the impact of his eight years as Kentucky’s chief executive today with a single phrase: A stronger core.

“Generations from now, Kentucky will be more competitive economically and our people will have a higher quality of life because of the hard work we’ve been doing to strengthen Kentucky’s core,” Gov. Beshear said.

The Governor said he came to Frankfort in late 2007 determined to restore the people’s trust in state government, to bring common sense to an out-of-control state budget, and to end the acrimonious partisan warfare that was interfering with good decisions.

Then the global recession hit, and like governors across the nation, Gov. Beshear said his top priority became helping Kentucky families and businesses “survive.”

“But survival wasn’t enough,” the Governor said. “I wanted Kentucky to emerge from the recession not shell-shocked and shattered but able and ambitious, poised to do great things. And so we also took aim at fundamental weaknesses that have held this state back for generations.”

To address those weaknesses, Gov. Beshear built numerous partnerships that focused on building a more competitive workforce; getting children off to a better start in their lives and their educational careers; improving the health of Kentucky’s people; attracting new businesses to the Commonwealth and helping existing businesses expand; improving Kentucky’s education system, from preschool to college; and investing in infrastructure that would pay off, years from now.

“These efforts weren’t quick fixes but were part of a long-term, multifaceted strategy that has helped Kentucky gain incredible momentum,” the Governor said.

He praised the many leaders, agencies and organizations who partnered with his administration, saying Kentucky’s needs brought together leaders in the public and private sectors, in urban and rural areas, across partisan lines, between the legislative and executive branches of government and between state and local elected bodies.

But in order for Kentucky’s long-term strategy to work, the Governor said, “we need to hit the accelerator – not the brakes.”

To call attention to Kentucky’s rapid improvement over the last eight years and the need to sustain that progress, Gov. Beshear released a “baker’s dozen” of Kentucky’s greatest successes.

Here is the unranked list:
• Reducing the number of Kentuckians without health coverage from 20.4 percent to 9 percent (according to a Gallup poll): Taking advantage of the “big solution” offered by new federal health programs, Gov. Beshear helped bring health coverage to over half a million more Kentuckians. The expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the creation of a state-based Health Benefit Exchange called kynect (deemed the most successful in the nation) have been enabling Kentuckians to access lifesaving preventive care in record numbers and is already having an impact on some of Kentucky’s most stubborn health problems, such as obesity, smoking, cancer and heart disease, as shown by the year-end progress report of the kyhealthnow initiative. It also brought nearly $3 billion in direct payments to health providers in the first 18 months of the reform, as the health industry created thousands of jobs to provide that needed care. Kentucky moved to a Medicaid managed care system in November 2011, saving the state millions of dollars.

• Cutting Kentucky’s unemployment rate in half: During the depths of the recession, Kentucky’s unemployment rate reached 10.7 percent. As the administration drew to a close, that rate had fallen to 5 percent and had been hovering there for months as Kentucky created tens of thousands of new jobs. And to maintain a safety net for those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, Gov. Beshear created a task force that brought together business and labor to not only maintain unemployment benefits throughout the recession but also created a plan to put the bankrupt Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund on the path to solvency.

• Winning the Governor’s Cup for economic development: Kentucky won Site Selection magazine’s coveted prize after finishing first in the nation for economic development per capita in 2014 – totaling 350 new location and expansion projects representing nearly 15,000 new jobs and more than $3.7 billion in new investment. Those numbers also set a state record for economic activity in a year. From January 2008 through Nov. 16, the state announced almost 2,300 new and expansion projects that will create more than 87,000 jobs when full employment is attained. The anticipated investment related to those announcements is $19.3 billion. In addition to those new jobs announced, more than 21,700 jobs were saved through retention incentives. Three initiatives helped drive that growth: A focus on exports that helped Kentucky set trade records four years in a row; a renewed emphasis on recruiting international companies and investors, including those from Japan, Germany, China, India and Canada; and the 2009 overhaul of Kentucky’s economic incentives program that so far has encouraged over $12.2 billion in investment. Gov. Beshear also created the Office of Entrepreneurship to enhance the state’s existing efforts to help startups and assist existing small businesses with growth opportunities.

• Raising the dropout age from 16 to 18: Thanks to help from the First Lady’s Graduate Kentucky initiative, the Beshears helped persuade the General Assembly to change Kentucky’s law to encourage teens to stay in school and get a degree. It was part of an emphasis on creating more effective high schools that also included Kentucky becoming the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and math and the second to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. Gov. Beshear protected classroom spending during 15 rounds of budget balancing and brought per pupil spending via the SEEK formula to its highest total in our history. As a result, Kentucky’s graduation rate has climbed to 86 percent and its college and career readiness rate improved from 34 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in 2014.

• $194 million in construction at two-year colleges: Embracing the critical mission of Kentucky’s Community and Technical College System, Gov. Beshear proposed and got passed a historic program called BuildSmart Investment for Kentucky Competitiveness. The public-private program, which funded a high-priority building at each of Kentucky’s 16 KCTCS institutions, represented both the largest single-largest investment in the KCTCS system since its formation and the first time two-year schools were allowed to use “agency bonds” to fund construction. In the same 2014-16 budget cycle, the General Assembly acted on Gov. Beshear’s proposals to pass $418.9 million in General Fund-supported bonds and $450.8 million in agency bonds to support construction projects at the state’s four-year public universities. Total bond-funded capital investment in education in the Governor’s four budgets totaled $3.4 billion. Postsecondary education received $2.7 billion and K-12 schools received $675 million.

• Ohio River Bridges Project: Nearly 40 years after Louisville leaders began talking about the need for a new Ohio River bridge, Gov. Beshear worked with then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, of Indiana, to figure out a way to fund not one but two new bridges and get construction started on both. The Downtown Crossing is expected to open to traffic in December. The Beshear Administration also broke ground on new bridges across Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley as part of the Lake Bridges project in Western Kentucky, completed emergency repairs on the Eggners Ferry bridge across Kentucky Lake and the Sherman Minton Bridge in Louisville and built the Milton-Madison Bridge. All told, some $8.2 billion in road, bridge and maintenance investment will have been issued during the eight years of the Beshear administration.

• Converting a prison to a modern Kentucky State Police training facility: In one of the most creative “recycling” projects in Kentucky’s history, a minimum-security prison was shut down and turned into a long-needed training academy for Kentucky state troopers. The facility, which graduated its first class this year, is just one example of innovative thinking in public safety that also included converting a former state psychiatric hospital into a state-of-the-art facility for Kentucky’s medical examiner. Kentucky also slowed its tops-in-the-nation growth in prison populations by modernizing its drug laws, putting a bigger focus on treatment and developing programs to keep offenders who leave prison from committing new crimes. As a result, Kentucky was able to close a state prison and end all contracts with private prisons.

• KentuckyWired: An ambitious plan to build 3,000 miles of middle-mile fiber infrastructure to spread high-speed broadband access to all areas of the state, beginning in eastern Kentucky, will help all Kentucky communities participate in the new global economy. Broadband will break down geographic and financial barriers to education and economic development by providing access to affordable, high-quality Internet service to connect Kentuckians to the world. It’s a key action step of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative created by Gov. Beshear along with Congressman Hal Rogers in 2013 to help Appalachia reverse the impact of a declining coal economy. Since its beginning, SOAR has received millions in federal and state funds to help with its mission. SOAR is a formal organization dedicated to action, not just talk, and it has engaged local, state and federal leaders and both the public and private sectors on projects that include the widening of the Mountain Parkway to create a four-lane highway into the heart of the mountains; setting up an office to nurture innovative new businesses and the framework for private-sector funding; expanding job training; offering low-cost home loans; improving dental care access and providing more substance-abuse treatment options.

• 5,000 more kids in preschool: As part of his vision to give every child – regardless of where he or she is born – a chance for a promising life, Gov. Beshear persuaded the General Assembly to increase funding to allow 5,125 more low-income children in preschool. The Governor also acted to drastically improve access to basic medical and dental care for kids, to add accountability and transparency to all of our early child care facilities through the All-STARS program, and to help more kids hit the ground running in kindergarten by pushing educators, school community providers and community leaders to coalesce around a shared definition of kindergarten readiness and by developing a screener to gauge whether children were arriving at school ready to succeed.

• Federal research lab and advanced manufacturing training center: Positioning Kentucky to remain a leader in manufacturing of cars as technology and the marketplace grow more sophisticated, Gov. Beshear pursued two key facilities. In one, Kentucky agencies and universities are partnering with federal researchers at the new Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center in Lexington. And in the other, he persuaded the General Assembly to allocate $24 million in bonds to build an advanced manufacturing training center in Georgetown that will produce workers for Toyota and other auto manufacturers. Through the KY FAME program, the Kentucky Skills Network and a new unified state career and tech ed system, Kentucky is building the advanced manufacturing workforce of the future. This will be particularly important since Kentucky – which is No. 3 again in the nation in building cars – has seen huge expansions of its Ford Motor Co. and Toyota plants.

• Fewer “pill mills:” Seeking to bring integrity to the use of prescription painkillers and to end the scourge of abuse and misuse that was destroying Kentucky families and communities, Gov. Beshear’s administration worked with the General Assembly to pass a bill that, among other things, drove out 24 unscrupulous pain clinics who couldn’t or wouldn’t meet new requirements that they be owned/managed by physicians. The bill also reduced “doctor shopping” by training doctors to recognize abuse and improve their prescribing. Other bills focused on methamphetamines, synthetic drugs and heroin as Kentucky under Gov. Beshear has tried to reduce its drug problem. Other strategies that reach across all these efforts included greater tools for law enforcement, expansion of substance abuse services and more emphasis on education and treatment. In 2008, Gov. Beshear established the Recovery Kentucky Task Force, a 21-member panel created to ensure the continued effectiveness and financial success of the Recovery Kentucky program, which helps Kentuckians overcome chronic substance abuse and addiction, and move toward a life of sobriety and productivity.

• Budget turnaround: Gov. Beshear inherited a $430 million midyear budget shortfall and a Consensus Forecasting Group (CFG) estimate that revenues would be $900 million less than expenditures in his first two-year budget. He’s leaving the next governor in much better shape. In July, Gov. Beshear made an $82.5 million deposit into the state’s Budget Reserve Trust Fund. On top of that, the CFG predicted in October that the General Fund will end the current fiscal year with a $242.3 million surplus and made preliminary predictions of 2.9 percent growth and 2.4 percent growth in the two coming fiscal years. A growing economy has helped the revenue side of the budget, while the expenditure side has benefited from a new attitude of “common sense.” Gov. Beshear’s staff has rebalanced the state budget 15 times, cutting $1.6 billion spending. He’s done so in three ways: with outright cuts that trimmed the state workforce to its lowest total in decades by using the Smart Government Initiative to make ongoing operations more efficient, and by addressing long-term “leaky bucket concerns” like public pension and health care for public workers.

• Surge in bourbon industry: Thanks in part to incentives that encouraged growth, the bourbon industry in Kentucky has invested millions in distilleries, warehouses and visitors’ centers over the past eight years, spurring an international resurgence in the popularity of the uniquely Kentucky beverage. The Governor has been a huge ambassador for the bourbon industry, including its Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour and new Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. An emphasis on tourism has helped the industry expand its annual economic impact more than $2.2 billion to $13 billion. The industry has added 13,000 jobs and now supports 180,000 jobs statewide. New initiatives and attractions include the Trail Town program, the Dawkins Line Rail Trail in eastern Kentucky, the addition of Sprint Cup racing at the Kentucky Speedway, the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games and The Ryder Cup.

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