Frankfort, KY – Staring Governor Beshear in the face last December when he took office was a 400-million dollar revenue shortfall. In the last year, things have gone from bad to worse and another round of budget cuts is coming. But despite all the gloom and doom, Beshear remains confident better times are ahead. "You know, we can all get down in the doldrums and just worry about things as they are, but part of my job is to look at things as they can be and they should be and to help our people get there."
A two-page list of first year successes prepared by the administration outlines at least 22 major accomplishments, including reducing the size of government. "We've got, I believe, two thousand fewer employees today than we had just a year ago. We've got about 460 fewer non-merit employees than the last administration had."
Governor Beshear rode into office promising to bring casino gaming to the Commonwealth, but the issue went nowhere in the 2008 legislative session. The governor then sought a cigarette tax increase, which also failed. Has he given up on gaming? "I'm certainly still interested in some form of gaming in this state, both because of the revenue it would produce and because it would help salvage our racing industry, which is in danger of going under - and that's a huge industry for us. But, gaming is not on the front burner for me right now because it can't really effect our immediate problem "
which is a projected 456-million dollar revenue shortfall. The governor is still crafting a plan to address the deficit and will soon take it to the people. He's not saying yet whether it will include any revenue-generating proposals, like a cigarette tax hike. "You know, most families can't just automatically increase their revenue. What they've got to do is sit down and tighten their belts. And I think they expect us to do the same thing."
Beshear is considering calling a special session next month to address the financial crunch, but is meeting resistance from Senate President David Williams. Williams agrees the state must address the situation, but he's not sure it will require a special session. "I'm determined, and I think he is too, that we're going to find some common ground to be able to work together. These issues are too important. And I'm determined to not let politics get in the way of us getting together and finding common ground and finding some solutions here."
Kentucky recently carried out its first execution in nine years, when Death Row inmate Marco Allen Chapman was put to death for the murders of two children. Beshear admits it was a difficult thing to go through, but stands by his decision to not intervene. "I reviewed that case in depth and thought about it a lot, but just could not find the kinds of extenuating circumstances that would cause me to take any action there. And so, you know, we carried out the sentence of the court."
Beshear says despite the bad economy and the heavy burdens often placed on his shoulders, he's glad to bear them and he's honestly enjoying his tenure at the Commonwealth's helm. "It's an honor to be here, and to be in a position to make a difference is really what it's all about."
Will he seek a second term? "Well, that's a little down the road right now. I really haven't given that any thought. We're working very hard on the issues at hand and we'll look at that as we go along."
This isn't Governor Beshear's first experience under the Capitol dome. He's also been Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Last year, after a 20-year break from politics, he returned with a vengeance, unseating Republican Ernie Fletcher, who was seeking a second term as governor.