FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Looking to build on Kentucky’s economic momentum, Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday proposed pumping money into developing new industrial development sites and building an Appalachian research center to promote the state’s agritech sector.
The governor also proposed a big infusion of funding for state parks. And he targeted money aimed at helping achieve a long-sought project along Kentucky’s northernmost boundary: a new Ohio River bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio.
Days after House Republicans preempted him by filing their own budget bill, the Democratic governor continued releasing parts of his spending recommendations. Beshear will present his budget proposals to the legislature in a Thursday evening speech shown on statewide television.
On Tuesday, he focused on his plans to spur economic development, improve workforce readiness and promote tourism.
The governor said his budget plan calls for using $250 million to develop a Site Identification and Development program. The goal is to enable state business recruiters to tout more Kentucky sites that are “shovel ready” for industrial prospects, Beshear said.
“This fund is going to help communities grow small industrial or business sites to be larger,” he said. “It will help prepare them to be build ready — to work on utilities and other needs — so that when they market that to the next great employer, it is ready to go.”
The Bluegrass State turned one such mega site into a bonanza last year, when Ford and a partner selected tiny Glendale, Kentucky, to build twin plants to produce batteries to power electric vehicles. The project will create 5,000 jobs.
To promote the state’s burgeoning agritech sector, his budget blueprint will include $75 million for an agritech research and development center in eastern Kentucky, the governor said.
“We want to make sure that we are not just where we grow the food of the future, but where the ideas come from,” he said at a news conference. “Where the research is done, where the intellectual capital is. That we put a stake in the ground saying the high-paying ... jobs, the research, the next breakthroughs, the intellectual property is going to be in eastern Kentucky.”
Beshear said his spending requests are well within the state’s means, amid record-high revenue surpluses and unprecedented highs for statewide business investments and job creation in 2021.
The governor will have to sell his proposals to the Republican-dominated legislature. With veto-proof majorities, GOP lawmakers will have the final word on the next two-year state budget. Some GOP leaders prefer more restrained spending, cautioning that the economy has benefited from huge amounts of federal aid amid the COVID-19 pandemic. House Republicans broke with tradition last week by filing their budget bill before receiving the governor’s proposals.
Beshear said it’s time for far-reaching investments, with the state sitting on huge revenue surpluses. And he said his proposals should appeal to Republicans and Democrats alike.
“This is the best chance in my lifetime of making this state everything we have always dreamed of,” Beshear said Tuesday. “Every single one of these (proposals) is smart, is fiscally sound and is an investment that will pay off in the future. And not one proposal is red or blue, Democrat or Republican. They’re all just good for our families.”
Another key proposal released Tuesday would invest $200 million to upgrade the state parks system, to pay for maintenance and repair work and to finance new projects.
Beshear also proposed tapping $250 million from the state General Fund to support three massive infrastructure projects: widening the Mountain Parkway in eastern Kentucky and building two Ohio River bridges, one in western Kentucky at Henderson and the other in northern Kentucky.
The funding would put Kentucky “in the very best position” in trying to get a new toll-free bridge built to unclog a notoriously congested route between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, the governor said. The new span would be a companion to the aging Brent Spence Bridge.
He also proposed allocating nearly $185 million over three years to meet a state match that would unlock about $775 million in federal money for road and bridge construction across Kentucky.
The governor also outlined funding proposals to develop an electric vehicle charging network, upgrade sewer and water systems, improve airports and bolster workforce development.
Beshear’s budget would direct $100 million to expand the electric vehicle charging network. State funds would be used to unlock federal funds that would cover much of the work, he said.
“If we want to lead in electrification, we’ve got to invest in it,” the governor said. “We can’t make the batteries of the future and not have charging stations for those cars.”