Money talks but Beshear might still walk

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Gov. Steve Beshear filed to run for re-election next year. With $2 million in his campaign coffers, he can feel pretty good about his chances.

Nevertheless, having a lot of money to spread around, like garden fertilizer, won’t produce anything if the soil contains no seeds.

So, what accomplishments has Beshear planted during his first term that might resonate with voters fed up with broken government, un-kept promises and inept leadership? How does Beshear’s garden grow?

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Let’s take a look:

  • During his first campaign, the governor put all of his political eggs in one basket: expanded casino gambling.

He offered Kentuckians more chances of losing their hard-earned money so Frankfort politicians could have more money to spend on government programs. Yet, three years later, Beshear has failed to convince even his own party – especially its rural legislators – to ante up the votes needed for “racinos.”

  • Beshear also promised economic development and more transparency in government.

Let’s see. When the governor took office in December 2007, the state’s unemployment rate sat at 5.7 percent. It now stands at 10.7. The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet reported the loss of 16,100 manufacturing jobs and thousands of mining, logging and retail positions during the past year. Nearly 5,000 more Kentuckians were unemployed in February than the previous month alone. And these are just the folks who haven’t given up looking.

In the midst of all these job losses in the private sector, the number of government-sector jobs increased by 2,300 since February 2009. Why am I not surprised?

Yes, some in his party will protest: “We have a national recession going on. The governor hasn’t had much to work with.”

But why do we elect governors or anyone else? Is it only to kiss babies at “rah-rah” campaign events and cut ribbons for new companies enjoying handouts from taxpayers? Or is it to provide solutions when it matters most – during hard times?

Others argue: “But the governor’s only one person. He can’t be held responsible for high unemployment numbers.”

Perhaps not. But he should be accountable for failing to take his constitutional duties seriously.

  • As the commonwealth’s chief executive, the governor gets all the advantages that come with the state’s full-time Budget Office and a host of economic experts at our state universities to assist him in fulfilling his chief legislative responsibility: submitting a balanced budget to the General Assembly.

Instead, this year Beshear submitted a budget in which he failed to address a $780-million gap. By including $780 million in gambling revenue in his proposal – knowing the plan would be dead on arrival in the Legislature – the governor turned in a job performance worthy of probation or worse. As a result, the part-time Legislature was forced to essentially scrap his budget and start completely over.

The governor’s strategy seems to revolve around forcing legislators to make difficult spending cuts that he said must come without the gambling revenue – and pay the political price at the polls. Meanwhile, he and former Louisville “Mayor-for-Life” Jerry Abramson, Beshear’s running mate – get to stay in office.

But Beshear’s “bosses” may think otherwise.

According to Rasmussen Reports, a polling company, 50 percent of Kentuckians now disapprove of Beshear’s job performance. And within that 50 percent, 17 percent “strongly” disapprove.

That’s low for Kentucky governors, who usually enjoy strong popularity despite historically mediocre job performances.

If Beshear doesn’t start providing executive-type leadership – depending on the candidate and campaign Republicans offer – that campaign-spending fertilizer might develop a distinct odor and at least one government employee might lose his job.

Jim Waters is director of policy and communications for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

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