LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin warned of steep spending cuts Thursday while the state House Republican leader gave a mysterious warning that Monday could be “an historic day” in the only legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats.
Bevin told a crowd of 1,500 business leaders from across the state that various state agencies have requested up to an additional $2.1 billion in state spending over the next two years. But Bevin, who took office last month as just the state’s second Republican governor in the past four decades, vowed he would not approve it.
“News flash: It’s not coming,” he said. “We don’t have it. Truth be told, I wish we did.”
Bevin is scheduled to unveil his two-year executive budget on Jan. 26 before a joint session of the state General Assembly. Because of that, he decided to forego the traditional State of the Commonwealth address governors usually give in January. His speech at the annual dinner sponsored by the influential Kentucky Chamber of Commerce marked the first major appearance of his administration after his inaugural address in December.
Bevin said his chief goal in his first legislative session is to “get our financial house in order,” specifically by finding solutions to the multibillion-dollar shortfalls in the state’s public pension systems. He scoffed at a Democrat plan to borrow $3.3 billion to bail out the beleaguered Kentucky Teachers Retirement System, asking audience members to raise their hands if “you think it is a good idea to borrow more money to solve this problem.”
While Bevin called for unity, including holding up the Kentucky state flag at one point with its motto “United we stand, divided we fall,” his biggest plea was not for policy, but for politics. He urged the state’s business leaders to send Republicans to the state legislature, saying he cannot advance his agenda until Republicans control the state House of Representatives.
House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover hinted Bevin might have his majority sooner than he thinks.
“We need your prayers,” Hoover said to conclude his speech, adding: “It’s going to be an interesting weekend coming up and next Monday could be an historic day in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Hoover’s comments sent waves of murmurs through the crowd, but after the event he declined to elaborate to reporters what he meant. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo did not attend Thursday night’s dinner, and House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said he was not aware of any seismic changes in House leadership.
Democrats have a 50-46 advantage in the state House of Representatives, not including four vacant seats. Special elections to fill those seats are scheduled for March 8. If Republicans win all four special elections, they would share power with Democrats 50-50. That could potentially plunge the House into chaos with 16 legislative days remaining in the session for lawmakers to approve a two-year, $21.4 billion state spending plan.