Gov. Steve Beshear Wednesday ruled out any idea he might challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014 and said the state confronts “two big issues” in pension and tax reform.
But he said he’s not sure how – or really when – the state may be able to come to grips with either of those issues.
Beshear said he “has no intention to run for the senate – or any other office” when asked by a reporter if he’d consider running against McConnell in 2014. Beshear, who lost to McConnell in a 1996 Senate race, is in his second and final term as governor, which ends in 2015.
Beshear’s statement followed another question about whether he thought actress, activist and Kentucky native Ashley Judd would make a good challenger for McConnell.
He said he knows and likes Judd but doesn’t “have any idea if she’ll run and I don’t know if she does at this point.”
Judd’s celebrity and statements that she might consider entering the political arena have drawn attention and stories from media both in Kentucky and Washington. McConnell, the leader of his party in the Senate, is a prime target for Democrats in 2014 but so far no Democrat has stepped forward to challenge him.
Whoever runs against McConnell, Beshear said, will face a tough race and will need to raise a lot of money. McConnell has already banked about $7 million for the race. While Beshear offered no specific names, he said he is confident Democrats will field a credible, viable candidate to face McConnell.
Beshear said pension and tax reform are two big issues confronting the state, but he said he doesn’t at this point know how he or legislative leaders will proceed on either.
His Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform is to meet Thursday and is expected to consider recommendations to alter the state’s income tax code. But Beshear said he didn’t know what the commission is likely to recommend in the end.
“I would think at the end of (Thursday’s) meeting, they would step back and look at everything they’ve tentatively recommended and see if they want to make any adjustments,” Beshear said.
Those tentative recommendations are to raise the cigarette and tobacco product tax to $1; reduce the income-tax exemption for retirement benefits; add a 1-percent utility tax; and push for a constitutional amendment that would allow cities to collect a 1-percent local sales tax.
Beshear conceded passing tax reform will “be tough in this political climate,” and said he didn’t now “whether we can get it done by the end of the (General Assembly) session,” which begins in January. He said if he and lawmakers can agree on a proposal, it might require a special session after the regular session because in a short, non-budget session in odd-numbered years any tax proposal would require a super majority of 60 percent.
He said he has talked generally, “but not in any substantive way,” with legislative leaders about the recommendations of a task force on pension reform.
That group’s key recommendation is that the state start making its full contribution to the retirement system with the 2014-15 budget, an amount in excess of $300 million.
Beshear pointed out the commission “made no recommendation on where that money comes from” and said he is “unwilling to take the money out of education” to use for the pension system.
Beshear said tax and pension reform could be linked because of the need for additional funding for the pension system and also because each recommended taxing at least some portion of retirement benefits.
Currently, the first $40,000 of retirement income is exempt from Kentucky income taxes.
The governor said “at this point” he does not envision opening up the current state budget when the legislature convenes in January.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.