Ky. Gov. Beshear pushes for free universal pre-K, higher teacher wages and medical marijuana
At Northern Kentucky's Chamber of Commerce January Forum in Covington Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear shared how his plans for the state in 2023 would benefit the region.
During his speech, the governor — who has filed to run for a second term — started off by applauding the work of Democrats and Republicans in Ohio and Kentucky for their commitment to the Brent Spence Bridge project.
So far, the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project has been awarded over $1.5 billion in funding. Beshear says he wants to make sure the project doesn't stress the people of Kentucky as prices for building materials fluctuate.
"We are going to complete the project and we are going to do it without tolls," Beshear said. "Part of this is, it's going to be a long project and costs will go up and down. In the midst of it, we're actually seeing projects for the first time coming in under what our expectation was. So there are some parts of the supply chain that are catching up and many parts of those we are seeing inflation slow."
On improving education
In addition to economic development, the governor also spoke about the importance of improving the state of education in Kentucky for families and teachers, starting with raising wages for educators across the board.
Beshear says average wages for teachers in the state rank 44th in the country and Kentucky currently has around 11,000 teacher vacancies. He also pointed out how other states, like Indiana, are pushing for bills that would raise teacher salaries by an average of $12,000 per year. The governor says too many teachers in Kentucky are struggling and urged the general assembly to pass his proposed Education First Plan, which would raise the salary of every public education worker by 5%.
Pre-K education was another area in need of improvement, according to Beshear. The governor said he wants to create a world-class education system across Kentucky and make a big investment in free universal pre-K for everyone, which is something he says will greatly benefit families by allowing parents to save on childcare and return to work sooner than they may have previously.
Beshear says universal pre-K and increased wages for teachers is something the state can easily afford.
"Our Education First Plan is more than affordable. We can pay both of those pieces and still have the largest budget surplus in Kentucky's history. It's something we cannot afford not to do to stay competitive in this region," Beshear said.
On legalizing medical marijuana
To end his speech, the governor said one of the most important items on his agenda heading into the next legislative session is the passage of a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky.
Beshear pointed to the strain the opioid crisis has put on the state for decades and said legal cannabis could be a way to help people recover from addiction while providing a safe form of medication for Kentuckians struggling with PTSD and chronic pain.
The governor says a majority of people in the state support the legalization of medical marijuana and he will work to pass legislation on the matter soon.
Kentucky's next legislative session begins Feb. 7.