Education at all stages of life, Medicaid expansion and growth in economic development and skilled labor were among the main priorities Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly discussed in a keynote address to the Shawnee and KCK chambers of commerce Thursday.
Kelly’s remarks sounded like a mini “state of the state” address, as she covered a wide range of other topics as well, including restoration of Kansas highway funding and the KPERS program, tax reform and economic stability statewide to attract a workforce and improve quality of life. But, Kelly said, education is central to all progress that could be made in the state
“Education is key to building a stronger workforce,” Kelly said. “Our state needs to support education more than ever and at every level. Educating our kids is the best way to address the challenges facing our state, and I believe funding our schools is actually a moral obligation we have to the next generation.”
Getting Kansas back on the radar for growth in skilled labor and training opportunities is another priority, Kelly said. Notably, the last time the governor was in the Kansas City area, she was signing an agreement with Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons to end the “economic border war” between the two states.
“We can accomplish things like that when we reach across the aisle and we work together,” Kelly said. “It is the ideal way to get things done.”
One example of the need for bipartisan support, especially heading into the 2020 legislative session, is for Kansas to expand Medicaid, Kelly added.
“The benefits of expansion would be far-reaching to include the economic gain in saving jobs and improving hospitals’ bottom lines,” the governor said. “We came very close this past session; expansion was actually blocked by only two state senators.
“As a result, approximately 150,000 Kansans do not have access to affordable healthcare this year, and Kansas has now left over $2.5 billion back in Washington, D.C. to be distributed to other states for them to help their citizens and build their economies. We need to get this done next session.”
Other goals Kelly highlighted for the 2020 legislative session and into the future are:
- Building a robust, comprehensive early childhood system in Kansas
- Creating opportunities for arts, humanities and culture using matching federal funds
- Restoring state highway funding to the Kansas Department of Transportation
Kelly also named some accomplishments from the 2019 legislative session, including:
- Signing a bipartisan school funding bill that passed Kansas Supreme Court muster
- Appointing David Toland as Kansas secretary of commerce to focus on economic growth in the state
- Establishing the governor’s council on tax reform
Supporting local business, water resources issues
A brief question-and-answer session followed. Here are some of the topics raised by members of the Shawnee and Kansas City, Kansas, chambers of commerce:
Following the Kansas and Missouri governors’ agreement to end the border war, what else can the two states do to work together?
Kelly said the two states are working together in other areas. For example, the USDA is relocating research offices to the Kansas City region; while the two states are competing to get those offices, both will benefit because the USDA will create 500 new jobs. Plus, the U.S., Canada and Mexico were selected to host the World Cup in 2026, so the two states can collaborate to try and attract the event to the Kansas City area.
What will Medicaid expansion look like for Kansas?
Kelly said there are many ways to expand Medicaid, but some ways work and others don’t. State Senate leaders have committed to addressing the issue, she said, adding that special committees in the Kansas Legislature are looking into it. Kelly said lawmakers must be “very careful” on designing the bill, because it has to be approved by both the courts and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington, D.C. She added that work requirements for Medicaid are “completely unnecessary.”
Companies in Kansas have trouble finding skilled labor to fill roles. How can Kansas offer post-secondary opportunities to address this issue?
The Governor’s Council on Education is working on this issue now, Kelly said, citing the council’s focus on higher education, K-12 education, early childhood and workforce issues. Kelly said progress has been made over the past few years because high schoolers now have more opportunities to graduate with either certification for training or credits toward a four-year college degree. But the main problem is a “lack of people” to work in Kansas, she said, adding that her long-range goal is to have work and higher education opportunities for students to stay in Kansas. She also wants to work with ex-convicts re-entering the workforce as well as veterans and their spouses to help with transitioning out of the military into the civilian workforce.
What are the state’s plans to protect water resources and quality?
Kelly said the state’s current system makes it “difficult to impose any sort of water control.” Getting buy-in from farmers to decrease the need for water in irrigation practices while addressing water quality issues is critical, she added.
How do you feel about state government supporting local businesses? Would you support a program that addresses this?
The Kansas Department of Revenue now requires online retailers to collect Kansas sales tax, Kelly said, adding that “we needed to level the playing field.” Kansas did not set a threshold for how large a business had to be, but Kelly said lawmakers can address that in the 2020 session. She’s not opposed to having a threshold of $1,000 in sales, but she said it’s important that the process has started.
What’s the status of the KPERS program?
“Alive and well,” Kelly said. This year, the legislature repaid some of the debt to KPERS, and the governor plans to “continue on that path.”