Written by Mark Payne, LINK Media politics & government reporter
Governor Andy Beshear delivered his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday evening in front of a joint session of the House and Senate. Despite record-breaking COVID-19 numbers, the speech was held in person.
In front of a sparse crowd, Beshear launched into his speech with optimism and excitement for the state's economy and positive outlook. Among the highlights were significant projects and economic activity in Northern Kentucky, including potential funding for a Brent Spence companion bridge without tolls.
"Kentucky is no longer a flyover state. We are the destination," he said before digging into details on what he described as the most robust Kentucky economy in the state's history. Last year, Kentucky brought in an $11.2 billion in private sector investment, expected to create more than 18,000 jobs across the state.
Republican lawmakers also took credit for the economic success.
"His speech highlighted some of the greatest things about the Commonwealth," said Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill). "While our greatest strength is clearly our people, the accomplishments he highlighted are the result of the past decade of conservative governance."
But despite the economic advances, Kentucky, like other states, is still battling the pandemic which has killed more than 12,000 people over nearly the past two years. Beshear said that everyone has lost someone to the pandemic which has remained in Kentucky as the state also dealt with a deadly tornado in December, and historic flooding.
"More than 12,000 of our Kentucky family," Beshear said of the number of COVID deaths, but noted that the state is working to combat the virus through the help of testing protocols by Covington's Gravity Diagnostics.
"We've built one the most robust testing and vaccination networks," Beshear said.
The December tornado that devastated western Kentucky was another major topic, as the governor talked about visiting the town where his father, former Governor Steve Beshear, grew up, Dawson Springs.
"Nothing I ever saw prepared me for the destruction I saw in western Kentucky," he said.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate are working together to bring relief to those affected by the storms. The plan is to fast-track legislation that puts $150 million into affected communities, in addition to $50 million to help schools recover.
The Kentucky General Assembly convened for its 2022 sixty-day session this week.
The governor repeatedly reiterated that Kentucky would overcome the challenges seen throughout the year.
"During the difficult times, the commonwealth has shown its resolve to deal with major disasters and a pandemic that ripples through all parts of our society," said Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington).
Kentucky's Economic Growth
Kentucky saw a record investment by Ford Motor Co., along with its partner, SK Innovation, when the companies announced that they would build the country's largest electric vehicle battery plant. Located in Glendale, just south of Louisville near Elizabethtown, the plant will pump out batteries starting in 2025 and is expected to create 5,000 new jobs. Bill Ford, Jr., told Beshear in his office: "Andy, this is the biggest step in the auto industry since the Model T. And this is the biggest investment Ford has ever made, and we are making it in Kentucky."
In Northern Kentucky, Amazon saw its new $1.5 billion hub become operational, creating roughly 2,000 jobs. One of the state's largest employers, Covington's Fidelity Investments, will create 600 new professional jobs, according to an announcement from the summer. The governor also added that he plans to build upon the pharmaceutical footprint in Northern Kentucky in his upcoming budget.
A Companion Brent Spence Bridge With No Tolls
The Brent Spence Bridge is a popular topic among state and national politicians, but Beshear and NKY lawmakers believe the bridge is a possibility in the future. Beshear is set to release his budget proposal at 7 p.m. next Thursday, Jan. 13, and the bridge was among the main topics to be included in infrastructure spending.
"We are closer to a companion Brent Spence Bridge than we have ever been," Roberts said. "I am more optimistic than I have ever been that we're going to have that bridge, that it's going to be toll-free, and it's going to be a design that the communities around the bridge are going to be happy with."
"I applaud the governor's commitment to building the Brent Spence Bridge without tolls," said Senator McDaniel. "I look forward to working with him to make this a reality in the near future. This project will be transformational for generations to come."
Beshear's State Budget Proposal
When Beshear presents his $28 billion state budget proposal next week, it will also seek to invest in essential workers, like the Kentucky State Police, state employees, teachers, and nurses. Also important will be helping Kentucky maintain its status as a leader in agri-tech, he said. But, the budget will ultimately end up in the Republican-led General Assembly.
"I am optimistic that the spending he proposes next week will keep us on that track and not begin to dig a deeper hole of debt that was left for us a decade ago," McDaniel said.
Either way, local political leaders are optimistic for Northern Kentucky's future.
"You cannot ignore what Northern Kentucky is to the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Roberts said. "We are no longer the forgotten northern part. We aren't south Cincinnati. We really have this amazing, defined character now."