TOPEKA, Kansas – Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly prepares to set out what she will likely call an interim agenda for the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature, which is already looking to scrap much of what she’s about to propose in favor of more conservative ideas. taxes and education.
Kelly was due to deliver his annual address to the state Tuesday night at a joint session of the House and Senate. She previously laid out several proposals for tax cuts, including removing the state’s 4% sales tax on groceries by April 1.
Other proposals, including expanding state Medicaid coverage for the needy and the elderly, have previously been blocked by GOP lawmakers.
Kelly’s speech was scheduled just hours after hundreds of anti-abortion and parish school students gathered outside the State Building to mark last Sunday the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned last year. But Kansas anti-abortion groups suffered a decisive political defeat in August, when a statewide vote strongly upheld the protection of the right to abortion under the Kansas Constitution.
Kelly welcomed the August vote but did not focus on abortion. GOP lawmakers are looking to provide millions of dollars in new funding for anti-abortion counseling centers.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, began his speech at an anti-abortion rally by saying, “Good afternoon, warriors of God!” and promised: “We will continue to fight.”
Leading Republican lawmakers have set out their own agenda, which features ideas popular in other GOP-led states. These include allowing parents to claim tax dollars previously earmarked for public schools to cover the cost of private or home schooling. The GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature approved such a plan early Tuesday morning.
GOP lawmakers in Kansas have also talked about imposing restrictions on the discussion of gender and sexuality in public schools, similar to what critics call Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Kelly and Republican leaders also disagree strongly on tax cuts.
Kelly was due to submit a state report on January 11, but she tested positive for COVID-19 the day before, only to learn later that it was a false positive. Her office has released her proposed $24.1 billion state budget for fiscal year 2024 beginning July 1.
Kelly narrowly won re-election in November and opened her second term earlier this month, saying in her inaugural address that Kansas is best run “where left and right converge.” She repeatedly touched on this topic in major speeches.
But the Democratic governor also previously vetoed GOP proposals to educate and ban transgender athletes from women’s and women’s K-12 competition, club and collegiate sports. Earlier this month, she rejected the idea of restricting what schools teach about gender and sexuality.
Rep. Christy Williams, the Wichita Republican who chairs the House Committee on K-12 Spending, said she’s working on a parenting education savings account plan using tax dollars.
“Kansas hasn’t historically been a leader in choice, but I think we’ve advanced enough in society to give parents the freedom to educate,” Williams said.
When asked on Monday about the possibility of choosing an aggressive conservative school or a “voucher” program, she said, “That’s not going to happen.”
On Monday, the governor also coldly reacted to the proposal of the Republicans and the influential Kansas Chamber of Commerce to cut taxes. This would move Kansas to a “flat” income tax with a single rate for individuals and corporations, rather than three for individuals and two for corporations.
Kelly held a press conference at Topeka Central for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking to promote her own tax cut plans.
“It has to be responsible,” Kelly said of the tax plan. When a reporter suggested on Monday that Kelly was flat-tax leaning, she replied, “I didn’t say that.”
Kelly and lawmakers are racing to cut taxes because the Legislature opened its annual 90-day session earlier this month with projections showing Kansas should end in June 2024 with a $4.2 billion cash surplus.
And that’s even after the state passed legislation last year to phase out the sales tax on groceries over three years. It fell from 6.5% to 4% on January 1st and should rise to 2% in 2024 and zero in 2025.
Leading Republicans have resisted Kelly’s plan to eliminate the tax entirely this spring, deeming their “flat” income tax a higher priority.
Each year Kelly is in office, she calls on lawmakers to expand Medicaid in line with the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010, championed by former President Barack Obama. Republicans who strongly oppose the move held enough key leadership positions to block expansion, even as voters in other Republican-leaning states supported it, including Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
Kelly also pushed lawmakers to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Although the House of Representatives approved the plan in 2021, there has never even been a committee vote in the Senate.