BRADENTON, Fla. - Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear Tuesday said the thawing economy enabled to state to deposit $82.5 million into the state budget reserve trust fund, bringing its balance to $209.4 million.
The surplus, the result of a 5.3% increase in state revenues, brings the rainy day account balance to "the highest it's been in almost a decade," said Beshear, a Democrat who is term-limited out of office after this year.
"Over the last seven-plus years, I have partnered with lawmakers, business leaders and local officials to grow Kentucky's economy and to manage us through the worst recession of our lifetime," he said. "We have made steady progress, but in the last several months, Kentucky has seen its recovery accelerate thanks to a dipping unemployment rate and an increase in business investment."
Beshear said fiscal 2015 revenues came in $165.4 million higher than predicted, allowing the state to increase funds "not by raising taxes, but the old-fashioned way" by focusing on efforts to boost the economy.
The excess revenues also enabled the state to structurally balance the current fiscal year budget for the first time since 2006, he said.
Since fiscal 2008, the state's general fund revenues have increased by 15%, though expenses increased 7.6%, he said.
"That's strong financial management," Beshear said. "And it's a sign of growth in our economy."
Adding to the bright outlook, he said, is the fact that Kentucky's 5.1% unemployment rate in June held steady for the 11th consecutive month.
Beshear announced the fiscal results during a press conference at which he was asked if the surplus funds would help the state deal with a $14 billion funding gap in the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System.
While the surplus indicates that the Bluegrass state's economy is "aggressively growing," Beshear said it would not solve all budget issues, including the KTRS pension problem.
Beshear said there would not be enough money to solve the teachers' pension gap overnight, and that it would "take years to build our way out of it."
Beshear said he appointed a task force recently to come up with a plan to address the funding problem and "get the teachers' system back on solid ground."
The task force is expected to prepare recommendations by the end of the year for the next governor and Legislature to tackle.
Beshear said Kentucky still faces economic and budgetary challenges, including necessary investments in education and ensuring the long-term reliability of the state's public pensions.
"We're obviously not where we want to be and we won't stop our aggressive work to strengthen the economy, build a stronger workforce, advance education programs, and offer affordable, quality, comprehensive health care to all Kentuckians" he said. "Finishing the 2015 fiscal year with a significant surplus, however, better positions our next governor to build on our successes for generations to come."
Kentucky's general election is Nov. 3.
Two candidates have filed to run for the governor's seat: Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin. Blackii Effing Whyte, a member of the Libertarian Party of Kentucky, is also running as a write-in candidate.
Conway is the state attorney general. Bevin is a businessman from Louisville.