TOPEKA – The Republican chairman of the Kansas Senate said Tuesday that Kansans should appreciate that Gov. Laura Kelly is governing near the ditch on the left side of the road rather than downtown as she has said on many occasions.
“On many issues, the governor’s party walks you in the far left lane, if not the ditch outside that,” said Senate Speaker Ty Masterson, of Wichita, in a speech responding to the speech on the state of kelly state.
Despite this belief, Masterson said she was cautiously optimistic that she would be able to work with Republicans in the House and Senate to reduce the state’s income tax burden. She supports legislation to make the state’s tax code “lower, flatter and simpler.”
Lawmakers are planning to pass wide-ranging tax reforms this legislative session because the state treasury holds an unprecedented $2 billion surplus. In addition to income tax reform, one idea floated by Republicans and Democrats was a short-term sales tax exemption for families who buy school supplies. There is a bipartisan interest in expediting the elimination of the state’s food sales tax that is scheduled to be eliminated in January 2025.
Masterson said he was unimpressed by Kelly’s claim that his administration’s approach to budgeting had led to a surplus, saying it was an easy outcome with the federal government flooding state governments with COVID-19 and economic stimulus aid.
“Let’s be completely honest, when it comes to budgets, it hasn’t been a big deal for any of us to ‘balance’ a budget with hundreds of millions of printed federal dollars flooding into the system,” Masterson said.
He stressed the need to deposit much of the surplus into the state’s rainy day fund, saying he believed President Joe Biden’s administration would cause a recession with “disastrous policies.” In 2022, the legislature put $1 billion into the reserve account. Some lawmakers, including Masterson, have said another $1 billion may need to be added to the reserve fund. In his legislative budget released for the session, Kelly planned to add $500 million to a state’s rainy day fund.
Masterson urged Kelly to resist the temptation to use the money to “overspend and grow the government”.
He remains strongly opposed to Kelly’s proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility to more than 100,000 low-income Kansas. He said government-run health care should not be expanded and that it would harm the most vulnerable Kansans.
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Democrat from Lenexa, said the Kansas GOP leadership could be viewed as obstructive in terms of response to Kelly’s agenda.
“With no election at stake, Kansas Republicans have nothing to hide behind when they stand in the way of these common-sense policies that will improve the lives of their constituents,” Sykes said. “Kansasians who support the vision for our state presented tonight by Governor Kelly should accept no supermajority play, but demand progress and cross-party cooperation.”
Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, also of Wichita, said as the 2023 legislative session opens, the GOP will set in motion a legislative agenda anchored in cultural issues, including “the sexualized and awakened agenda,” the protection of parental authority in schools, the implementation of a transgender student-athlete sports ban, and the imposition of abortion regulations.
Masterson reiterated these ideas in the GOP’s response to Kelly’s speech, saying Kansas children are at risk of a “sexualized revival agenda” and a “radicalized revival agenda.” The Senate president and other Republican leaders have yet to articulate what this “wake-up program” entails.
He blamed education unions for issuing a “wake-up program,” saying unions feared parental input and that Kelly and his party were at the mercy of these unions.
“This journey is leading our schools to become little more than factories for a radical social agenda,” Masterson said. “This is why she vetoed the bill of parental rights, but we will give her another chance in this session. If she is indeed in the middle of the road, she will stand up to the radical elements in her party and sign the bill.
A form of educational bill of rights was discussed last year but did not become law. The legislation has been criticized by teachers and education officials for encouraging skepticism of classroom materials and inciting challenges to books in school libraries.
Legislation that would have prevented transgender athletes from taking part in designated girls’ or women’s athletic teams also collapsed last year. Masterson said they would bring the transgender bill back in this session and that Kelly would have to sign the bill this time.
“Republicans also celebrate women’s sports and recognize that to ensure a level playing field for all who compete, biological men should not compete in women’s sports,” Masterson said. “It has nothing to do with sexuality or gender, it’s simply about fairness and science. It’s for the same reason that we divide athletes into weight classes or separate varsity from varsity junior.”
Abortion was also highlighted in Masterson’s speech. He said the Republican leadership will strive to reduce abortions in Kansas by expanding state funding of crisis pregnancy centers, emphasizing adoption and preserving what he called common-sense abortion measures in the state.
The recently introduced legislation would ban the prescribing of abortion drugs through telehealth and allow counties and cities to set abortion regulations as long as they are as strict or stricter than state abortion laws.
Masterson said Kelly and his party “were allowing the most inhumane procedures up to the time of birth, and beyond,” implying that the political stance of Kansas Democrats allows for babies to be killed after birth. Abortions in Kansas are illegal after 22 weeks of gestation, except in cases where the mother’s health is in danger. State records show that no abortions have been performed outside of this 22-week window in recent years.
Masterson said energy policy in the state should focus on gas, coal and nuclear power to ensure reliable heating and cooling for the Kansans. He said Democrats have been steered towards alternative “green” energy sources by climate activists and that moving away from gas and coal would hurt the economy.
“We hope the governor will once again stand up to extremist elements in his party and work with us to reduce user rates and protect our economy,” Masterson said.
Masterson concluded his speech by saying that he and other Republicans in the Legislature would try to seek compromise with Kelly and cling to a spirit of cooperation during the 90-day legislative session.