Kansas Governor Laura Kelly was a dealmaker when she was a state senator. It seems that is what she wants to do in her new office.
“I know I’m in a new role, but I want to maintain my working relationship with you,” Kelly said in her first State of the State speech Wednesday night. “We are all in this together, we’ve got to be pulling in the same direction. There’s so much at stake, and I look forward to working with you.”
Kelly ignored party labels in her message, understanding that she does not have anything more than vocal minorities of Democrats in either legislative chamber.
“Regardless of our state’s partisan breakdown, our crowning achievements have always been won on the middle ground,” Kelly said. “Now, tonight we will start a new chapter. We must unite around the values we share … we must always remember that the people who sent us here. They expect compromise and results. But we must also strike a delicate balance in the days ahead. It will require an acknowledgement of the entire Kansas story. Not just one fiscal year or one moment in time. It is with this renewed sense of purpose, appreciation for our past struggles, and optimism for our next chapter that I proudly report, the state of our state is improving.”
Kelly’s top priority is school funding.
“We’re going to properly fund our schools this year and next year and the year after that,” said Kelly. “Every year, every month, every day that I am governor.”
She plans to do that by setting the education budget out from the rest of the state budget. This is the way it has been handled by the Legislature in the last couple of sessions, anyway.
“My friends, we have debated this issue in these halls, in the courts of law, and in the court of public opinion,” Kelly said. “Kansans flocked to the polls in record numbers last year to send a message about this issue specifically. Now, we must listen to them – our families, our teachers, our business leaders. We have a deadline to meet, so let’s get this done.”
Kelly said that if the legislature acts decisively there is an opportunity for a bipartisan victory. She is also focused on Medicaid expansion.
“Rural communities cannot survive without hospitals and affordable healthcare. Period,” Kelly said. “Young families, seniors, Kansans who suffer from chronic illness, Kansans who just want to stay healthy — no one can afford to risk their safety and wellbeing by living in a community without access to healthcare. Just by expanding KanCare – the state’s Medicaid program – we can help keep these important facilities stay open and provide affordable health care to 150,000 more Kansans – no matter where they live. I’ve made no secret that expanding this program is one of my top priorities. And 77% of Kansans agree with me.”
She’s putting a deadline on it, too.
“By Kansas Day, there will be a plan to expand Medicaid put before the Kansas Legislature,” said Kelly. “I can imagine no better way to celebrate our state’s 158th birthday than by embracing a policy that will make every Kansas community healthier, stronger, and more secure.”
She also said that the state’s foster care system has reached a crisis point.
There is not an easy answer,” said Kelly. “We must do what we can to protect our kids. This is an emergency. These are our children in our communities facing abuse, neglect and worse. Let’s remember Evan Brewer… Jayla Haag… Mekhi Boone. And many more who needed our help. These were our children… in our communities. And I refuse to forget them.”
Kelly is budgeting for the Families First Prevention Services Act, more money for state social workers and shoring up SCHIP, along with restoring the Children’s Initiative Fund.
“Working in partnership with my new Department for Children and Families Secretary, Laura Howard, we will rebuild an agency decimated by ideology and mismanagement. In November of last year, I said that “in order to fix something, you have to know what’s going on. You have to be able to get under the hood, see what is working and what is not. My team is already at work – and we will be transparent about what we find and we will make it right.”
Kelly acknowledged that there is much more to do in state government, but these are her priorities. We’ll see how much of the legislative session it takes to get this far.