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January 22nd, 2022

ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The state of Kansas saw challenges and triumphs in 2021, and Tuesday evening, Gov. Laura Kelly addressed them with her State of the State address. 

Among the current major challenges, like everywhere else, is the battle with COVID-19. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges for every agency – and I could not have asked for a better, more prepared team,” Gov. Kelly said. “They have not only faced those challenges head on, but each of them has steered their agency to be more fiscally responsible, more nimble, more efficient and more responsive than ever before. We've lost loved ones, coworkers, friends, and neighbors. Unfortunately, we continue to lose too many Kansans to this virus. But we also saw, and we continue to see, the very best of Kansas rise up in every corner of our state. Our health care professionals have persevered, working long, hard hours, for weeks, then months, now years, to save lives. They continue to be our heroes. The Kansas spirit of neighbor-helping-neighbor has never been stronger. The people of Kansas are getting back on their feet. The state of Kansas is getting back on track. However, right now, and likely for the next few months, the threat of COVID-19 remains, particularly for the unvaccinated and the immunocompromised. While the long-term outlook is much more positive with the new Omicron variant, our hospitals and nursing homes have sounded the alarm. Rising case numbers from the winter holidays and Omicron have created the toughest surge the medical community has faced since the pandemic began in 2020. Last week, I issued two new executive orders that create staffing flexibility to keep residents, patients, and staff safe. It will be imperative that we work together to quickly extend my orders through legislation to help our nursing homes and our hospitals. For those of you watching at home, I ask that all of you think of your family, your friends, and our front-line health care workers. Help each other by getting vaccinated, getting your children vaccinated, and getting the third shot. This is how you keep yourself and those around you healthy. We owe it to each other.”

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Gov. Kelly also talked about how the state’s economy has fared during her term. 

“We've taken a clear-eyed, balanced approach – acting responsibly to stop the spread of the virus, while also ensuring that our Kansas economy grows and stays strong. And because we managed our budget responsibly and saw record economic growth and investment in our state, I'm now proud to say we have the largest budget surplus in the past 40 years. That's the largest surplus in 40 years all while balancing the budget and fully funding our schools. Whereas, just a few years ago, Kansas was making headlines for its budget mismanagement, I believe Kansas is now the most fiscally responsible state in the nation. We've paid down state debts. And we're adding $600 million dollars to the state's Rainy Day fund, the most money that's ever been put in there. Growing the Rainy Day Fund is the responsible thing to do. To make sure critical services like schools and law enforcement are always funded even if our economy takes a turn for the worse. Because we've managed the budget so responsibly, I was proud to announce that every working Kansan who filed taxes in 2021 will get a $250 dollar rebate this year – $500 dollars for married couples filing jointly. That's money back in your pocket to pay for child care, to take your family on a mini vacation, or to buy groceries.”

With that in mind, Gov. Kelly brought up the proposed Axe the Food Tax bill that has been under discussion for several weeks. 

“Here's something we all know: Food in Kansas costs families way too much. And even as we sit here with a record surplus, Kansans continue to pay higher taxes on groceries than anyone in the country. It makes no sense. For years, many of us, on both sides of the aisle, have been calling for an end to the state's sales tax on food. Now, with this surplus in the bank and increased revenue because of our economic growth, we can finally, responsibly, afford to totally eliminate the grocery sales tax. I've called on the legislature to send a bill to my desk to end this tax, once and for all. It will save Kansas families hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars a year. This is a commonsense policy on which Democrats and Republicans can completely agree. The only obstacle that could block this legislation is the same type of toxic political games that have poisoned Washington D.C., where denying a political opponent a win has become more important than getting things done for the people they represent. We are better than that in Kansas. 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. Just 13 words. Send me a clean, bi-partisan bill, that eliminates the state sales tax on food by Kansas Day, Jan. 29, and I'll sign it the moment it hits my desk. We must not delay. Every day we delay costs Kansas families money, each and every day. It will be a win for every one of you in this room. And, much more importantly, a win for working Kansans.”

Gov. Kelly also talked about the economic development that has happened throughout the state, including the creation of 30,000 jobs and more than  $7.6 billion dollars in new business investments in Kansas. Gov. Kelly also mentioned the work done in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the state’s meatpacking plants open and added the state will surpass the $4 billion mark in exports for the second consecutive year, which has not accomplished in nearly a decade. Gov. Kelly also emphasized the importance of ongoing broadband and transportation projects throughout the state, and discussed the need for Medicaid expansion, a major goal of hers in her gubernatorial campaign. 

“For years, we've debated Medicaid expansion round and round. Folks, medicaid expansion is the quickest, the easiest, and the most common sense way to help Kansans,” Gov. Kelly said. “And we’re not just talking about 150,000 Kansans accessing quality, affordable health care. The fact is, communities can’t grow or survive if their hospitals close. Kansas has lost five hospitals in recent years. We can’t afford to lose another. We owe it to our rural families and businesses. Medicaid expansion won’t just protect small towns and their residents, it will keep health care professionals from moving to neighboring states – most of which are Red states – all of which have expanded Medicaid. Right now, we’re the stubborn, self-defeating, state in the middle of all of them, we are sabotaging our rural communities and their efforts to recruit new jobs and residents. We are shooting ourselves in the foot. Medicaid expansion is something we can do right now. It is well past time. Let’s get this done. A strong health care system will always be a hallmark of a healthy state and a healthy economy.” 

Just as important, however, Kelly said, is the strength of the state’s public education system.

“I am proud to say, for the fourth straight year, we are fully funding our public schools. And, we are doing it with a balanced budget. Because it's not an either-or,” Gov. Kelly said. “We can balance the budget while also funding our schools, fixing our roads and bridges, funding other essential services, investing in economic development.  The full funding of our schools is something everyone in this Chamber can celebrate. But, I also know that, for these past couple of years, during the pandemic, the challenges facing our schools have gone way beyond just funding. Last year, in my State of the State, I spoke directly to teachers, who, nearly overnight, reinvented the way they taught, doing whatever it took to educate our children during the pandemic's worst days. We’ve worked hard to get everyone back in the classroom, but the job of a teacher hasn't gotten any easier. If anything, it’s more difficult and more stressful. Teachers have always deserved our deepest gratitude, our respect, and our support. To all the Kansas teachers out there, we thank you. We applaud you.”

Gov. Kelly then mentioned more parts of the budget and other upcoming work at the state level before closing her remarks encouraging Kansans to come together. 

“When we think back several years, and reflect on why things in Kansas went so far in the wrong direction, it’s because we weren’t prioritizing what Kansans want and what they need,” Gov. Kelly said. “Kansans want their government to focus on the day-to-day needs that most of us can agree on – and not on the ideological issues, or the culture wars, that divide us. When I talk to Kansans from all political parties in all corners of the state, the most common theme I hear is: ‘I am so sick and tired of all the political fighting.’  Let us all hold hands these next few months. And not let go until we finally get things done. God bless our great and beloved state of Kansas.”

 

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