Sen. Robert Stivers, the newly elected president of the Kentucky Senate, says he is looking for dialogue with Gov. Steve Beshear and all members of the General Assembly.
In an interview with The Manchester Enterprise, the Clay County Republican also said that if the Republican Senate caucus wants a vote on gaming, he would allow it to go forward.
Gaming is an issue that Beshear, a Democrat, has been pushing for several years as a way to increase state revenues and help the horse industry. He has been opposed on the issue by David Williams, who preceded Stivers in the Senate’s top post. However, Beshear has appointed Williams to a circuit judgeship, thus eliminating the main opposition to gaming.
Stivers said that he personally opposes gaming for moral and economic reasons, and he would oppose making it legal.
However, he said, “If there is overwhelming sentiment for it to come to the floor, it is going to the floor.”
That sentiment, or support, would have to come from the Republican caucus, which elected him, he said.
Stivers said he has advised Republican senators to talk with the governor.
He said he also wants to share the direction of legislation with the other Republican leaders in the Senate.
Concerning his desire for dialogue, Stivers said that he has already sent a letter to Beshear asking that he (the governor) have all of his legislative needs such as reorganizations ready for the early part of the upcoming session.
If those issues can be dealt with early, he said, more time would be available to deal with the budget.
Over the past several sessions, the assembly has failed to enact a budget by the end of their regular sessions, and special sessions have had to be called.
The two largest financial issues facing the state, Stivers said, are Medicaid and the ever-increasing cost of incarceration.
The much talked about state pension issue, he said can be dealt with, but finding a solution to the other two issues will be difficult.
Medicaid costs continue to rise, and the Managed Care Organizations, which were supposed to the save the state $90 million, have not performed. One has even stopped providing services leaving providers with millions in unpaid bills.
Stivers sees all of the problems facing the state as being interwined. The rising costs of both Medicaid and incarceration are tied directly to the epidemic of drug abuse. Much of that, he says, is tied to people’s lack of education. Providing premium education, such as having small teacher-pupil ratios, is expensive, but there are ways to improve education that do not necessarily cost. He says programmatic changes help in a big way.
“Do I have a market on intelligence?” he asked. “No. But I do have an education, and the more with educations the more ideas we will have to fix our problems. Education is my primary concern.
“Education is the key to systematic change in our society.”
Stivers wants to see more science and math teachers coming out of our colleges and universities.
To do that, he said, we need to look at incentives, and possibly having differences in pay.
He also said that the universities are raising their tuition because they say the state has cut their funding. That is not entirely true, he said. He said that more funding has been provided to students for scholarships, and that is where a substantial part of money has gone.
Another issue that must be addressed, Stivers said, is the state’s taxing structure.
He said the tax base must be expanded so that more are people are shouldering the load.
Southern states, he said, such as Texas and Alabama, are growing because they have spread their tax base and have been able to recruit new business.
Stivers said that he is not going to follow David Williams’ example and stay in Frankfort.
“David didn’t go home to Burkesville to get his haircut,” Stivers said.
He said staying in touch with everyday people is important so he can stay grounded and know people’s real concerns.
“I want to go to ball games and have people come up and talk with me,” he said. “People think I’m standoffish, but that is not true. I just am not one for small talk. But I do want people to tell me what’s on their minds.”
He also put to rest the question that some political observers have been saying for years – that is that he would eventually replace U. S. Rep. Hal Rogers when he retires.
“No, I have no intent to do that,” he said.
Stivers takes over his new post Jan. 8 when the next session of the General Assembly begins.