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State of the Commonwealth: Getting stronger due to free-market policies, not gubernatorial politics

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after appearing in publications statewide.

This year’s elections will determine whether Gov. Andy Beshear gave his final State of the Commonwealth speech recently.

Regardless, Kentucky’s economy will likely continue its current pro-growth trajectory if the General Assembly persists in implementing the type of fiscally responsible policies Beshear enthusiastically vetoes then later claims the fruit they bear as his successes.

“With the books closed on 2022, I can announce we’ve now secured the best two-year period for economic growth in state history,” Beshear rightly reported in his speech.

There’s no doubt it’s been a prosperous stretch for the state – 800 new relocation or expansion projects promising more than 40,000 new jobs and $24 billion in new investment.

But, would Beshear have signed House Bill 1 making Kentucky a right-to-work state had he been governor in 2017?

Not only would he have not signed it, but – based on his present treatment of a myriad of economically competitive policies– he would have vetoed it and actively campaigned against individual workers being free to not pay union dues without losing their jobs.

Yet, as we have often emphasized in this space, becoming a right-to-work state along with lower taxes, less government spending, pension and education reform, will attract employers – including the manufacturers we now see arriving – who increasingly find themselves looking to leave states with policies that erode liberties while making the cost of doing business climb ever higher.

Ironically, that record economic growth Beshear claimed wouldn’t have happened had his big-spending and even-bigger-government mindset prevailed.

Just as ironic, proof of that statement is found in his reporting – we’ve had the best two-year period for economic development, job growth, budget surpluses and “the longest period of the lowest unemployment rate in state history.” But it’s all happened because voters increasingly choose candidates favoring economic freedom while obviously moving away from the governor’s favored approach of progressive redistribution.

A press release from the governor’s office claimed “he will preside over the four highest years of state budget surpluses in the commonwealth’s history.”

Laying aside for a moment the fact that it’s the legislature that “presides” over the budget process determining how tax dollars get spent, let’s give Beshear some political due.

It’s all very Clintonesque in the sense that the former president opposed welfare reform legislation before it grew legs in the Republican Congress. So, Clinton made welfare reform the center – and a winning issue – in his reelection campaign, and has succeeded in embedding it into his political legacy.

But don’t mistake Beshear’s political prowess for strong principles which produce the increased opportunity we’re witnessing.

As another famous president who from beyond is cheering the Kentucky legislature’s march toward more economic freedom once quipped, while – as we also give credit where it’s due – paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

It’s more about what happens next.

While Kentucky has taken some long strides, much remains to be done before we reach the mountain top.

What happened in November’s election positively indicates that Kentucky will continue to experience the kind of growth Beshear likes to trumpet after the fact while opposing in real time those policies producing it.

More principled and fiscally conservative policymakers fill General Assembly seats than perhaps ever before. They can, and should, sufficiently frustrate Beshear’s desire to stop policies that reduce tax burdens, deny parents school choice and use our historically large budget reserves as government slush funds, which he – again and super-ironically – has trumpeted as being the strongest in our state’s history even while proposing spending that fund down as quickly as lawmakers built it up during the past two years.

Those policies – rather than the governor’s petty politics – will make the biggest difference in making Kentucky fully competitive again.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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