Kansas Gov. calls for college tuition freeze, end to food sales tax amidst state budget surplus
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly invoked the late Sen. Bob Dole and baseball great Buck O’Neil in calling on lawmakers to put aside partisan differences to work for Kansans.
The Governor delivered her fourth State of the State address Tuesday night to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature. After recognizing health care workers for their work through the pandemic and calling on Kansans to get boosted and vaccinated, Kelly touted a budget surplus, and said her budget calls for a total freeze on college tuition increases.
“This virus took something from our students. And, we are going to give them something back,” she said. “These are the types of things we can do when our state’s economy is growing the way it is.”
Kelly also doubled down on a priority she announced last fall, asking lawmakers to send her a bipartisan bill to eliminate the state’s sales tax on food by Kansas Day, January 29.
“Let’s not overcomplicate this. The essence of the bill can be summed up in 13 words: We hereby eliminate the state sales tax on food in Kansas, effective immediately,” Kelly said.
Kelly said lawmakers have made great headway on the budget, with the largest surplus in 40 years.
“I believe Kansas is now the most fiscally responsible state in the nation,” she said.
On economic achievements, Kelly said Kansas has created more than 30,000 new jobs, with the private sector investing nearly $3.8 billion in new facilities and equipment in 2021. She cited companies such as Hilmar Cheese in Dodge City, Superior Boiler in Hutchinson and the Schwan’s Pizza Plant in Salina hiring and expanding.
“There’s more economic opportunity in the state of Kansas today than at any time in our history. And Kansans should really take pride in the role they have played in helping our state and, all of the nation, successfully navigate through this pandemic,” she said.
Still, Kelly said, the threat of COVID-19 remains, particularly for the unvaccinated and immunocompromised. She asked lawmakers to extend the two new executive orders she issued last week, that create staffing flexibility for nursing homes and hospitals.
Kelly took a moment to recognize the late Sen. Bob Dole, who passed away in December, recalling his quote, “When it’s all over, it’s not about who you were, it’s about whether you made a difference.”
She said lawmakers have shown they can work together on issues like school funding, infrastructure, and supporting military families, and urged the legislature to continue to do so.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman said Republicans share many of the same goals the Governor outlined, but said elected officials must deliver on goals, not merely talk about them.
“The Governor says she wants to reduce the sales tax on food, but she vetoed the plan to do just that,” he said. “The Governor says she wants to send one-time income tax relief to Kansans. But, a year ago, she blocked Kansans from meaningful income tax relief in order to feed government spending. The Governor says she wants to foster economic growth, but she closed small businesses and then vetoed a plan to offer them the recovery loans they needed to weather the closure.”
Ryckman said he and his GOP colleagues pledged to keep the promise of the American dream alive through smart economic decisions, meaningful tax cuts and steady leadership that will keep businesses and good-paying jobs in Kansas communities.
Kelly’s address also touched on several other priorities, including a renewed call to expand Medicaid, saying it will help thousands of Kansans and also protect rural health care. House Democrats have introduced a constitutional amendment, which would put the issue to a public vote in the November election.
In addition, Kelly said her budget protects state highway funding by “closing the Bank of KDOT;” invests in law enforcement, such as pay increases for the Kansas Highway Patrol and funding for equipment and training facilities; and includes additional funding for mental health services.
Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes applauded the Governor’s message.
“Governor Kelly is committed to solving the problems that affect Kansas families across the state: keeping our schools fully funded and our children healthy; investing in the safety of our roads and highways; and ensuring the economy has the strength to sustain our state’s prosperity for years to come,” she said. “With Governor Kelly at the helm, we have shattered economic development records and positioned ourselves to finally close the book on failed tax experiments and deliver real relief for Kansas families. I look forward to working with her and my colleagues to deliver for Kansans this year and in the years to come.”
But some Republicans called it election-year politics.
“After years of lockdowns, mandates, school closures, and criminalizing religious worship while protecting abortion clinics, Governor Kelly has determined her path to re-election is a complete political transformation,” said Shannon Pahls, Kansas GOP Executive Director.
Kelly closed her speech by sharing her admiration for Kansas City Monarchs great Buck O’Neil, and congratulating his posthumous election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She said O’Neil was known for his optimism.
“One of Buck’s more delightful sayings was, ‘Hold hands with the person next to you. That way, they can’t get away. And neither can you.’ Let us all hold hands these next few months, and not let go until we finally get things done,” she said.
Copyright 2022 WIBW. All rights reserved.