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Beshear Speaks in Covington of Optimism for General Assembly Session

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear had a more publicized appearance with Ohio Governor John Kasich in Covington Wednesday to announce their signing of a memorandum of understanding to speed up the Brent Spence Bridge project, an announcement that included news that tolls will be a definite part of the financing plan.

Prior to that event at the Radisson Hotel, Beshear addressed the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce government forum at the Grand in Downtown Covington. "It's great to be back here at Club Venus," the two-term Democrat joked about the gentleman's club next door. He shared a story of visiting the Grand in 2011 in the midst of his successful reelection campaign where he laughingly worried that a photographer may have been lurking nearby to take a snapshot of Beshear close to the entrance of Club Venus.

Following his opening remarks that began with that lighthearted reference to one of the city's last remaining go-go joints, the governor shared an optimistic outlook for January and February's General Assembly session. 2013 won't be like 2012, he predicted, a point boosted by the elimination from the legislature of Republican Senate President David Williams whom Beshear appointed to a southern Kentucky judgeship. Williams, whom Beshear soundly defeated in his 2011 reelection, was a constant obstruction to the governor's plans, particularly expanded gaming which is expected to make a return in some form or another for legislators to continue.

"In five years as governor, I'm actually excited about approaching a legislative session," the governor said. "We're going to have a real opportunity because we're going to have leadership in the House and Senate who will sit down with me and talk about our issues." That leadership in the senate includes Republican Damon Thayer of Georgetown whose large district slinks north to include southern Kenton County and South Covington. Beshear called Thayer a friend and they worked closely together on a failed attempt to bring expanded gambling to the voters this year.

Beshear also expects to make gains in addressing the state's distressed pension system which ranks among the lowest funded in the nation. He also hopes to tackle tax reform an issue that the governor has established a blue ribbon commission to study and offer recommendations, some of which have already been laid out. The commission is led by Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson.

"I'm sure we will have people in both chambers willing to sit down and have frank discussions about where we can go," Beshear said, adding that education cuts will not be up for discussion. "It's not going to come out of our school system because that is a place we cannot afford to make less investments. Quite honestly, we need more."

That news was met with applause from the audience that recently attended another Chamber government forum that focused on a regional collaboration to increase early childhood reading. That knack for Northern Kentucky entities to come together for a cause was also applauded by the governor. "You deserve the bragging," Beshear said. "You have come together over the years like no other region in Kentucky and it's paid off." The governor credited a vibrant business community, leaders that care, and a regional approach to efforts for the success.

Beshear also highlighted to Covington residents in his remarks, Secretary of Education Joe Meyer, a former state senator and resident of Old Seminary Square, who is leading the administration's efforts to "revolutionize career and technical education". The governor wants more rigorous courses that are more in line with what employers, particularly in manufacturing, are looking for.

Beshear also expressed support for angel investor legislation sponsored by Democratic State Representative Arnold Simpson, also of Old Seminary Square. That legislation was brought up unsuccessfully in the last session and has public support from local business leaders and organizations.

Another issue hitting Covington and Northern Kentucky particularly hard was addressed by Beshear: drugs. The governor said house bill 1, which cracked down on so-called pill mills has been successful in fighting prescription drug abuse and that in the next session that legislation could receive some tweaking. The state's drug epidemic has had a direct effect on job issues. "I've had employers tell me 'I have job openings but I can't fill them because people can't pass the drug test'," Beshear said. "We've got to do better."

In spite of the various obstacles to employment, Beshear's record has been positive on the jobs front. From September 2011 to September 2012, the Commonwealth's job growth rate was second highest in the nation and unemployment is two-percent lower than it was three years ago. "It's still too high but it's moving in the right direction," the governor said. He credits the job growth to economic incentive packages that were revamped by his administration.

Beshear cited fifty different projects in Northern Kentucky in which the state has partnered worth $800 million in investments that he hopes will create more than 4,600 jobs when they all come to fruition. The governor touted the recent announcement of a $900,000 expansion by Indy Honeycomb in Covington and an expansion of L'Oreal in Florence.

"Folks, we are turning the economy around in Kentucky and we are coming out of this historic recession," Beshear said.

Written by Michael Monks, Editor & Publisher of The River City News

PHOTO: Governor Beshear joins Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood at the Radisson in Covington following remarks to the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce/RCN