Gov. Matt Bevin can’t think of a single failure from his first year in office.
“I don’t know that we’ve failed at any of the things we attempted to do,” Bevin said at a news conference at Zeggz Amazing Eggs restaurant in Louisville on Friday morning.
Kentucky’s third Republican governor since World War II attributed his successes to having a limited agenda in his first year.
“I campaigned on things I would have loved to have seen, like getting rid of the inventory tax and getting rid of the death tax,” Bevin said. “The reason I did not do those things is they would have hampered the kind of budget passed that we got passed. So to that end, it was more a function of anticipating that these things would be obstacles and/or hindrances and/or not possible and just forgoing that particular battle.”
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In the wide-ranging news conference that lasted a little under an hour, Bevin criticized reporters for covering what he called “silly” stories, while touting his accomplishments and discussing issues he would like to address in the upcoming year.
When pressed about an executive order he signed early this year that cut about $18 million from Kentucky’s public universities in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Bevin said he didn’t consider that a failure even though his order was overturned by the Kentucky Supreme Court in September.
“The year we’re in right now, they are getting 4.5 percent less than they were,” Bevin said. “So it wasn’t a failure. This was simply related to last year’s budget, the budget that was passed before I came in office.”
Going forward, Bevin said he would like to allocate more money for higher education, but that universities must prove they’re spending the money wisely.
“There is a move toward outcome-based funding, which is going to ask our universities, with the monies they receive, to come up with ways to ensure that they’re giving the taxpayers a better return,” Bevin said. “That’s what the taxpayers want and that’s what the taxpayers are going to get.”
When cutting university funding, Bevin said the money was needed to prop up the state’s two financially struggling pension systems.
Bevin and lawmakers allocated more than $1 billion in extra funding for the state’s pensions systems, which have an estimated $32.6 billion unfunded liability, but Bevin said more must be done to fix the crisis.
“We’re cutting out of absolute necessity because we have one of the worst funded pension systems in the United States of America,” Bevin said.
Bevin said he plans to call a special legislative session in 2017 to deal with the pension crisis and to overhaul the state’s tax code.
Meanwhile, Bevin said he remains focused on growing the state’s economy, pledging to announce a new leader for the Cabinet for Economic Development next week. The cabinet has been without a permanent leader since Nov. 2015.
The governor, who was a successful businessman before entering politics, said state government is more bureaucratic and corrupt than he anticipated. His administration has granted a $500,000 contract to an Indianapolis law firm to look for corruption in the administration of his predecessor, Steve Beshear.
“I’ve also learned that the level of corruption in our state is far deeper than any of us believe or want to believe,” Bevin said. “We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. The things that are being discovered as we look at things are sad, it really is.”
Bevin also touted his “red tape initiative,” a plan to reduce government “red tape” over the next three years by 30 percent. In his first year in office, Bevin’s administration repealed about 2 percent of the state’s regulations.
Bevin said he thinks the administration of President-elect Donald Trump will approve his Medicaid waiver proposal, which would allow Kentucky to charge monthly premiums to Medicaid recipients earning more than $11,880 a year and remove vision and dental coverage, among other changes.
“If you have actual skin in the game, you’re almost certainly going to have more appreciation for it and take better care of whatever it is that you have …” Bevin said. “Simply having access doesn’t make you healthier. Simply having a Medicaid card doesn’t make you healthier. What makes you healthier is making good decisions.”
When asked about his future political aspirations, Bevin said he would be more likely to run for re-election than to take a presidential appointment or run for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s seat. But he also didn’t rule out returning to the private sector.
“I have no interest in doing anything outside of what I’m doing right now,” Bevin said. “In fact, the question about this versus the private sector, I miss the private sector, I really do.”
Bevin, a Christian who often refers in his speeches to “our Christian-Judeo values,” was asked if he believes a person can be a Christian and a Democrat.
Bevin said he knows Democrats he believes are Christians but that “God alone knows.”