It seems like we heard Gov. Andy Beshear’s first State of the Commonwealth Address before.
He didn’t have the twang of former Gov. Steve Beshear, nor did he have his old man’s “eye-catching, silver, sideways-spiraling semi-pompadour” as Bob Garrett, my former colleague, once dubbed his hairdo.
But the themes were the same.
Get along … blah, blah, blah … work across the aisle … blah, blah, blah … legalized gambling … blah, blah, blah … good night … blah blah blah … oh, yeah, legalized gambling.
It wasn’t that it was a bad speech.
Senate President Robert Stiver, a Republican, said afterward that “it was a nice tone.”
House Speaker David Osborne, another Republican, said it was “a very pleasant speech … but at some point in time you have to move beyond pleasantries and get down to governing.”
Problem is, you can’t do that without money. Bigger problem is, we don’t have any.
As former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson said in his first State of the Commonwealth Address, “we’re broke, busted, tapped out.”
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Beshear laid out some pretty bold ideas in the speech including the $2,000 across-the-board teacher pay raises he talked about during his campaign, criminal justice reform, fully funding pensions, stopping the state withdrawal from funding Kentucky’s university system, building an I-69 bridge over the Ohio River and widening the Mountain Parkway.
But he never said how he would get the money to do those things other than a slug of cash from gambling.
That’s what his dad did.
Here’s how the budgeting process worked under Steve Beshear:
Step one — Propose expanded gambling.
Step two — Have expanded gambling rejected by the legislature.
Step three — Blame the legislature for slashing government programs because it blocked said gambling proposal.
It looks like we may be headed down that same path.
There’s disagreement over how much gambling would bring in — up to $48 million a year from sports betting, which stands a chance of passing, and somewhere between $200 and $500 million (probably on the lower end) for full-blown casinos.
But that really doesn’t matter. Basing a budget on either of those things is a sucker bet. Especially the casinos, which appear dead on arrival in the legislature.
While proposing expanded gambling — which will be filed in the legislature with a toe tag — Beshear hasn’t yet called for anything else to enhance revenues.
Like his old man, Beshear didn’t say a word about tax reform.
Sure, Steve Beshear toyed with the idea. He even set up a “blue ribbon commission” — he loved “blue ribbon commissions,” whatever they are — to study tax reform but never backed a specific proposal.
Stivers said last week the legislature can’t enact tax reform without Beshear’s involvement because the governor controls access to financial information needed to enact it.
That’s probably just as well since the Republican plan is generally to shift the burden to the poor and middle class through increased consumption taxes.
But without increased revenue, it’s hard to see Beshear pushing through much of his agenda — unless he can make deep cuts to a budget that has already been slashed.
Remember, former Gov. Matt Bevin, who once claimed children were ingesting poison because school was canceled, was so desperate to cut the budget that he tried to zero out funding for the state’s poison control center.
There’s not a lot of money to be had and there’s not a lot of fat to cut after two decades of austerity.
Beshear will be back in a couple of weeks with a budget plan and perhaps he’ll have more ideas than just gambling to increase state revenue. He needs to.
Because if he doesn’t, it will likely set off a long four years of budget cut after budget cut as the state tries to wrestle rising pension and Medicaid costs to the ground.
If that happens, his term will look like that of a guy with the eye-catching, silver, sideways-spiraling semi-pompadour, who managed state government through some difficult times but never had the money needed to move the state forward.