Six takeaways from Gov. Kelly’s State of the State address

0
428

Gov. Laura Kelly offered up her sixth State of the State speech Wednesday night, weaving her agenda with the success of rural Kansas.

She used rural Kansas as the jumping off point for her vision of the state as she enters the second year of her second term as the state’s chief executive.

She emphasized the importance of expanding Medicaid, opposing school vouchers, improving accessibility to child care, cutting taxes and conserving water to keep Kansas strong and vital.

“As strong as we are as a state overall, if we’re going to reach new heights, we can’t just support growth in Overland Park, in Wichita and in Lawrence,” Kelly said.

“Garden City, Independence and Goodland need our attention, too.”

Kelly’s map for the state is intended to not only be for this year, but for her next three years in office.

Here are six takeaways from the governor’s address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature on Wednesday night.

Medicaid expansion

If  the last six months of Kansas politics have told you anything, it is very clear that Kelly is not letting go of Medicaid expansion – ever.

It’s been an issue since she ran for office in 2018, and it’s back again for a sixth time in 2024. This time, Kelly tied Medicaid expansion to the success of rural Kansas, where many GOP lawmakers reside.

“Simply put, our rural hospitals are not doing well. In just the past decade, eight have closed down – including Herington Hospital, which shut its doors in October after 104 years in operation. Soon after that, Fort Scott lost its emergency room – a gut punch to a community already reeling from the loss of its hospital four years ago.”

She added that 59 more hospitals are at risk of closing.

“At this point, not expanding Medicaid is akin to giving up on your rural hospitals, your rural communities, your rural constituents. I refuse to do that. And you should too.”

She suggested that if lawmakers were allowed to vote on Medicaid expansion, they would support the initiative, suggesting that Republican leaders were keeping the issue bottled up without a vote of the House and Senate chambers

“This should not be a partisan issue, and in fact, I believe that if the issue were put to a vote today, the majority of you in this chamber would support it.

“Yet there are some who are so adamantly opposed to expansion that they won’t even give you the opportunity to debate and to vote.”

Vouchers

Kelly made it clear once again that she would veto any bill that would divert public education dollars to private schools.

“Vouchers will crush our rural schools, plain and simple,” Kelly said.

“Believe me, if you represent a rural area and you’re out there pushing for vouchers, you’ll be hearing from parents back home – wondering why you’ve turned your back on their schools, and why you’ve prioritized private schools hundreds of miles away,” she said.

She predicted that any proposal that would take money from public education and send it to private schools would cost rural Kansas schools.

“The loss of local schools would mean the loss of a special way of life, going right at the heart of what it means to live in a small town.

“When kids have to take the bus to another town, miles away … you lose those grocery store run-ins with your kids’ teachers … you lose the bake sales, you lose the school plays,” Kelly said.

Early childhood

Kelly told lawmakers she would propose the largest single-year investment in the state’s early childhood system. She said a large part of that investment will go toward solving our state’s child care shortage.

The state is about 85,000 slots short of meeting the demand for child care in Kansas. Kelly said more than half of all Kansas families needing child care can’t find an open slot – forcing many parents to leave their jobs.

“And the shortages are worst in our rural areas,” she said. “That’s bad for our children, stressful for our parents and, at a time when every business is desperate for workers, it slows down our economy.”

She also called for creating the Office of Early Childhood in an effort to consolidate early childhood services and creating one place for young families, child care providers and businesses to get services.

“Right now, if a day care center wants to set up shop, it must work with one state agency to get licensed, another to receive workforce support and a third to get funding. There are too many barriers, too many portals, too much hassle. We need to fix it,” she said.

A recent report by a special task created by the governor concluded that the existing system for childhood services is “inadequate and overly complex,” noting that they are splintered between four different state agencies.

Taxes

Kelly once again criticized the single tax rate pushed by Republican leadership. She has been steadfastly opposed to the flat tax because she says it benefits the wealthy and does little to help the less affluent.

“The flat tax came up last year, and I expect it’ll come up again this year, despite the fact that it only benefits the super wealthy while doing little to nothing for working, middle class Kansans.”

The governor touted the tax plan she rolled out earlier this week that would cut property taxes, exempt Social Security from income taxes and create a sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases.

“Let’s take the flat tax off the table once and for all. Instead, let’s come together around this plan – it benefits all Kansans, not just those at the top. It includes ideas from both Republicans and Democrats.”

Water conservation

The governor said her budget proposal would recommend fully funding the State Water Plan for the third year in a row.

She said it also will include more funding for rural towns to update their water systems.

It also would provide resources for the new Kansas Water Institute at Kansas State University to leverage expertise and develop innovative solutions to water challenges.

She also said it would provide additional resources to help farmers and ranchers implement water-saving practices.

“For too long, our state’s leaders have not been good stewards of both our budget and of our natural resources,” Kelly said.

“That must end now,” she said. “The challenge of preserving our water quality and quantity illustrates what I said earlier – that an existential issue for rural Kansas is an existential issue for our entire state.”

Don’t give up on rural Kansas

“Too often, it seems as though people – especially here in the statehouse – believe our rural communities are doomed to shrink…that our hospitals are doomed to close…that our schools are doomed to decline,” Kelly said.

“That we should just throw up our arms, as if there’s nothing we can do about it. I think that’s nonsense. Here’s my message tonight: Step up for rural Kansas. Step up.

“This must be a priority – when rural Kansas is strong, then Kansas is strong.”

Here is a video of the governor’s entire speech: