Beshear Talks to RCN: COVID, NKY's "On Fire" Economy, the Brent Spence, More
Wed, 12/08/2021 - 07:20 RCN Newsdesk
Kentucky is seeing historic economic investment but also still battling rising COVID cases as the holiday season, and its associated gatherings, arrives.
Governor Andy Beshear is celebrating the business boom but urging caution ahead of Christmas.
He spoke with The River City News on Tuesday by phone.
"We are definitely seeing an escalation," Beshear said of COVID cases in the state, reiterating his point from Monday's statewide coronavirus briefing where he detailed the highest case count in nine weeks.
The governor, midway through his first term, cited three reasons for the reversal of fortune in the battle against COVID which had improved in the early summer as vaccination numbers increased and case counts lowered: the aggressive and deadly delta variant, waning immunity from the vaccines, and people gathering together indoors as the weather turns colder.
Beshear encouraged families to gather for the holidays, different from the messaging in 2020 prior to the full release of vaccines, but suggested that people do so carefully.
"When my family gets together, every single individual, including my kids, will be fully vaccinated," Beshear said. "I am grateful that that was possible for the 5 to 11-year olds just in time. Everyone over 18 will have their booster shot, something necessary to get our immunity up to the highest level."
For weeks, the governor and state health officials have encouraged people who are fully vaccinated (two shots of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine) to receive a booster shot to counter waning immunity. Those adults who are six months past their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or two months past their single dose of Johnson & Johnson, are eligible to receive a booster.
The governor noted that his holiday gathering will have a "number lower than we might have done in another year."
Meanwhile, the emerging omicron variant is also of concern, he said. The world is still learning what this variant may mean for the war on COVID. "There is still a lot we don't know, but we need to remember that the delta variant is enemy number one," Beshear said.
The governor noted that COVID will have killed more Kentuckians than World War II, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam combined.
"And you can't choose how your enemy responds in a war, and when it's over, it's over."
He said that he remains committed to doing what his powers allow in fighting the virus.
While vaccination efforts slowed after the initial rush earlier in the year, Beshear said that he is still impressed by the state's performance. "We talk sometimes about frustrations at our vaccination levels," said the governor, whose state has 53% of its population fully vaccinated, and 15% having received a booster. "(But what we've done as a state and as a country is unheard of. It's never happened before."
"We have an economy on fire"
Despite the health challenges in the state, Beshear celebrated advances in the economic investment arena. "We have already shattered any records on total investment into the state by the end of the year," he said. "We think we will surpass $11 billion when we would normally average $4 billion."
"It's not stopping with this year," Beshear said. "I think we will have a very good December and a good first quarter (of 2022).
Automaker Ford leads the highlights with a $5.8 billion investment in two electric car battery plants set for Hardin County. Toyota is also expanding its Scott County operation through a $460 million investment.
"We are going to be the electric vehicle battery capital of the U.S. and huge players in the EV market," Beshear said.
He also touted the massive Amazon investment at CVG Airport in Hebron, Dollar General's growth in Walton, and the arrival of Protective Life Corp. in Covington.
"Time and time again we are seeing business trust us - Kentuckians - with the very future of some of the largest and sophisticated companies in the U.S.," he said.
About a bridge
Also in Northern Kentucky, there is heightened optimism that an answer could arrive for the long-awaited Brent Spence Bridge project. The aging span is a notorious traffic clog as it brings drivers from Covington to Cincinnati along a route in which Interstates 71 and 75 are combined.
Last year at this time, the bridge was fully shut down following a fiery crash involving two tractor-trailers. The state's effort to repair and reopen the Brent Spence Bridge in just six weeks has won multiple awards.
Now, with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill in Congress, Beshear is echoing the sentiment of other local leaders who see it as the most serious chance to do something more permanent to address the traffic challenges in the corridor.
"I am more optimistic than ever," he said. "This is the closest we have ever been to getting that Brent Spence Bridge project and doing it without tolls."
Beshear sees a couple of possible funding pools in the legislation, pushed by President Joe Biden, where the bridge could benefit.
"It is the number one project in America," the governor said. "This can be the poster child of this infrastructure bill."
Redistricting and the looming General Assembly session
Kentucky lawmakers are set to return to Frankfort for their 60-day legislative sessions - which includes the crafting of a two-year budget - in January.
Beshear hopes that the focus is on continuing economic progress, infrastructure (including clean drinking water), and education.
"We have got to help Northern Kentucky in its momentum in the pharmaceutical industry, to make sure we have the necessary facilities to attract more of those companies," Beshear said, an apparent nod to firms like CTI Clinical Trials and Gravity Diagnostics.
"We've got something great going on in each region of the state and Northern Kentucky's economy is just wild. It's so gratifying to watch the number of opportunities every single day that y'all are seeing," Beshear said.
Meanwhile, 2022 is expected to bring new legislative and congressional districts.
"The honest answer is, I don't know what to expect," Beshear said. He said that no Republican lawmaker has reached out to him yet to discuss their plans. "Frankly, I don't think they're ready yet and don't have the maps drawn."
Republicans dominate the General Assembly with super-majorities in both the House and Senate, and will likely control most of the mapmaking.
"There's significant law," Beshear said. "They have to be constitutional. With the size of the super-majority they have, they should be fair. I believe that fair districts often end up being competitive districts.
"What I'm against is taking any existing district to benefit one party or the other. These districts should be generally contiguous. We shouldn't see little strands go off this way or that way so a specific elected official (can get elected)."
Lastly, the governor reiterated his hope of a safe holiday season for Kentucky families.
"Get together with your families. We will never take for granted against being able to do that, but please do it safely," he said. "There are a lot of people this Christmas who won't be with us, empty chairs at tables, people we lost too early.
"Let's make sure that's not repeated this season."
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher