If you take away Gov. Ernie Fletchers genuflection to the evangelical and/or anti-labor wing of his party, Fletchers State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly Monday reflected a set of realistic and progressive priorities for the current legislative session.
Indeed, Fletcher sounded very much like most of his Democratic predecessors over the last couple of decades.
He wants to spend more money on schools in a number of key areas. He wants to make health care insurance affordable to small businesses. He wants to require that Kentucky motorists get serious about wearing seat belts. And he wants to spend a considerable amount of tax money on an arena in Louisville whose cost Monday jumped by $50 million to $400 million.
In particular, Fletcher says he will propose that teachers salaries be raised over time to be competitive with salaries in neighboring states. That, of course, is the only way Kentucky can expect to retain its best and most effective teachers. Since House Democrats proposed the same initiative last week, there should be no difficulty in the House and Senate coming to an agreement on teacher pay.
But Fletcher also said he wants more money spent on preschool programs and education technology, both areas that have languished in recent years as state spending was cut to balance a succession of state budgets. The governor also wants to follow the lead of the State Board of Education in adopting tougher requirements for high school graduation.
While Fletchers education priorities should encounter few obstacles in the General Assembly, his proposal to allow law enforcement officers to stop and cite motorists for not wearing seat belts may not be as easy to pass. This is, after all, much the same legislature that repealed a requirement that motorcycle riders wear helmets for their own safety.
And while Fletchers idea to raise the interstate speed limit to 70 miles per hour because everyone drives 70 anyway seems reasonable, we expect the higher speed limit will translate only into everyone driving 75 mph or more, with more deadly highway crashes as a result.
There are, of course, other state spending priorities that must wait for Fletchers formal budget presentation, but the education spending he outlined in his speech Monday appears to be on the mark.