TOPEKA (KSNT)- Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly outlined her top priorities for 2023 in her annual State of the State address on Wednesday.
One of the items high on the governor’s list is tax relief. He pushed his “Axing Your Taxes” plan, which would deliver $500 million in tax cuts over the next three years.
“We are in this position to responsibly deliver tax relief because we have focused on building a strong tax foundation for our state.”
Governor Laura Kelly, D-Kansas
“But let me be clear: I will oppose any irresponsible tax proposal that erodes that foundation. We’ve been there before. We know where it leads. And we can’t go back,” he continued.
One of the highlights of his plan includes eliminating the state food tax this year. It’s an issue that has been pushing for the past year, but it’s been greeted with scrutiny by some Republicans who have spoken out in favor of prudent spending.
“There is no reason Kansans should ever look down on grocery receipts and see this tax,” Governor Kelly said. “People can’t afford it. People don’t deserve it. And there’s no need to wait for 2025. Let’s stop now.
Lawmakers negotiated a phased reduction last year, which lowered the state food sales tax from 6.5 percent to 4 percent effective Jan. 1. Governor Kelly’s plan would eliminate the tax by this summer.
In an interview with the Kansas Capitol Bureau, Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins said lawmakers are likely to take action on the food tax this year, but it’s not clear what the legislation will look like.
“$9.5 billion is the budget he proposed. It’s actually the largest budget in Kansas state history,” Hawkins said. “That’s about $1.1 billion more than last year’s budget. So, are we really looking at his budget to decide, do we really want to do everything he’s proposing?”
The governor also plans to take a step toward marijuana reform, calling on lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana this year.
“In 39 other states, Americans with chronic pain, seizure disorders and PTSD can access medical marijuana to ease their suffering,” Kelly said. “But, despite the fact that a clear majority of doctors believe that medical marijuana should be part of a comprehensive pain management and palliative care plan, it’s still illegal here in Kansas.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle met during recess to work on a medical marijuana bill.
Senator Rob Olson, R-Olathe, is leading efforts to create a final draft, which he says should go to the Senate.
Some Republican leaders and state officials have spoken out against legalizing marijuana in the past, citing potential problems with enforcing the legislation.
While the bill is likely to gain support in the House, it could face obstacles in the Senate. Republican Senate Speaker Ty Masterson said the issue is not a legislative priority.
“We will need to have effective safeguards in place to ensure it is used appropriately and not abused,” he said. “But I believe that, as with everything else, if you and I work together, we can find a common-sense, fair solution.”
Governor Kelly also continues to push for Medicaid expansion, despite pushback from Republicans in the past.
In response to the governor’s speech, Senate Chairman Masterson shared his caucus position on Medicaid expansion.
“Republicans support healthcare freedom and expanding access to affordable care through cost transparency, increased competition, and less government regulation of consumer choices — all of which can be done while preserving a network of security for those in our society who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, the governor’s party remains focused almost exclusively on government-run health care, which would greatly expand the administrative state and hurt the very people the Medicaid safety net was intended for.
Senate Speaker Ty Masterson, R-Andover
“Now I know, I sound like a broken record, but that’s only because we have a broken healthcare system,” Kelly said. “Already too many rural hospitals have closed their doors. When that happens, communities have been devastated.”
“And if you’re sick of hearing me talk about this, and you don’t want to hear about it again in next year’s speech, let’s expand Medicaid in this session,” Kelly continued.
For the Governor’s full speech, click here.
For the response from Republican leaders, click here.