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Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear calls for unity in GOP-leaning Kentucky to uplift economy, education

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear reached across the partisan divide Wednesday night to urge a unified effort with Republican lawmakers to uplift education, health care and the economy, saying Kentucky has an opportunity to assert itself as an “economic and a moral leader.”

Beshear, who raised his national profile by winning reelection last year in the GOP-leaning state, renewed his pitch for higher salaries for teachers, state-backed pre-K education for every 4-year-old, increased funding for roads and bridges and efforts to meet the state’s health needs.

Touting a record pace of economic development, the governor said Kentucky has an unprecedented opportunity to build a top 10 economy offering the security of good-paying jobs. Noting that he’s now term-limited, the governor said it’s a chance to set politics aside. It’s an acknowledgement that he needs support from GOP legislative supermajorities to pass his priorities.

“This is our chance to push away the division,” Beshear said in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech. “To prove that we can govern without name-calling or scapegoating. To do it without anger, without fear and without hatred. That we can not only talk about our collective faith, we can live it.”

Beshear had frequent policy clashes with Republican lawmakers during his first term, and prospects are uncertain for there to be less friction in the legislative session that just convened this week.

The governor focused on his immediate priorities in the current legislative session but also took a longer-term view at the start of his second mandate.

“Improving life right here at home is the most important focus we can have,” Beshear said. “And these next four years are our chance — Kentucky’s chance — to be the difference, to be both an economic and a moral leader in this country.”

The governor outlined his wish list for the next two-year state budget in a televised speech last month. He reiterated those priorities Wednesday night, calling for an 11% pay raise for teachers and all other public school employees and the funding for pre-K.

“We are rightfully concerned about learning loss,” Beshear said. “So we should address it where it begins.”

He also made another pitch for child care assistance, with funding to help cushion child care programs from the loss of pandemic-era federal subsidies, and called for another massive infusion of funding for transportation and clean water projects.

Passing the next budget will be the top priority for lawmakers in this year’s 60-day legislative session.

The governor said a commitment to meet the mental and physical health needs of Kentuckians is an investment not only to improve lives but to bolster the state’s workforce.

“We need all of our people healthy enough to be a part of this future and the prosperity it will bring,” he said. “So let’s continue to expand access to quality health care for all of our people.”

To bolster law enforcement, Beshear called for increased pay for Kentucky State Police troopers and officers. He proposed an increase in the training stipend for local law enforcement officers and requested $35 million to fund grants for body armor.

Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press

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