Capitol Update: Rep. Kessinger sees education funding, taxes and Medicaid expansion as among biggest issues for 2020

Rep. Jan Kessinger says education funding, Medicaid expansion and food and property taxes will be among the biggest issues debated during this year’s legislative session.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jan Kessinger, Rep. Tom Cox and Sen. Dinah Sykes are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Kessinger’s column is below.

The 2020 legislative session quickly hit mid-session form, wasting no time to take on controversial topics. While legislators girded for battle over an amendment to allow the legislature to make laws affecting abortion, a bi-partisan bill for Medicaid Expansion hit opposition and myriad proposals and ideas ranging from mandating “In God We Trust” be placed in all public buildings in Kansas to making watermelon the state fruit lined up for their day in the sun.

Couple these divisive issues with a sincere effort to bring 165 legislators to civil discourse and you have a recipe for a fascinating legislative session. More than 40 legislators braved an ice storm to attend a half-day workshop opening the door to understanding and harmony among the lawmakers. A follow-up dinner is scheduled for February 3. The effort will continue throughout the session.

Governor Laura Kelly laid out her priorities in her State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature. Here are some of the highlights and what I see happening:

EDUCATION

The governor told legislators to be mindful of the progress made on education funding last session, including recognition that funding for education is now constitutional. She encouraged continuation of the plan as passed and budgeted. I do foresee that school choice will be brought up again and perhaps some cuts/adjustments will be proposed to education. I support fully funding education.

MEDICAID EXPANSION

This is a key element to the governor’s agenda for 2020. In her address she made it clear that she sees passage as vital to the health of vulnerable and poor Kansans as well as to our economy. Governor Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning have proposed a bi-partisan bill that reflects compromise and consensus on expansion. The bill faces stern opposition among House leadership and is facing some difficulties moving forward in the Senate. Many proposed amendments threaten passage of the bill if they are added. Currently, the bi-partisan bill as written appears to have the votes to pass if it can make it through committee and to the floor for a vote. This passage is long-past due.

FORWARD KANSAS TRANSPORTATION PLAN

The governor urged implementation of Forward Kansas, a transportation plan formed by the Kansas Department of Transportation and a transportation taskforce. The task force held meetings throughout the state gathering information on how and where the transportation department should focus and prioritize. The plan calls for a two-year rolling plan that keeps plans contemporary and relevant, rather than a 10-year plan as in the past. Johnson County infrastructure improvement is vital to our economic future.

BUDGET

She promised (and later presented to the Senate and House) a balanced budget that did not call for any direct tax increases, but did propose some new taxes. She also proposed re-amortizing KPERS in order to save cash in the short term. In the long term, it will add millions to our debt. There are no other glaring changes, but count on the budget committees in both chambers to make adjustments, both enhancements and cuts. That said, Kansas is in far better economic shape than a few years ago. I should add that if you project the budget out several years, we will be back in the hole in 2024 or 2025, so don’t spend those surpluses, yet!

FOOD AND PROPERTY TAXES

Governor Kelly called for a food sales tax rebate program and broad property tax relief. Both of these will require a lot of work in the tax committees, and both are sorely needed.

Overall, I agree with many of her goals. As with any proposal, each of these need to be analyzed and discussed to find the best ways to implement them. Sometimes we make things worse as we fiddle and micro-manage. The governor did not touch on the opioid crisis and did not focus much on mental health, two issues we must address now. I look forward to working on these issues and others in the coming weeks.