Kansas governor to outline agenda for skeptical lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is preparing to outline what she will likely call a middle-of-the-road agenda for a Republican-controlled Kansas legislature already hoping to ditch much of what it will propose in favor of more conservative ideas on taxes and education.

Kelly was scheduled to give the annual state of the state address Tuesday night to a joint session of the state House and Senate. Previously, she outlined several tax cut proposals that include eliminating the 4% state sales tax on groceries by April 1.

Other proposals, including expanding the state’s Medicaid coverage for the needy and the elderly, have previously been blocked by Republican lawmakers.

Top Republican lawmakers have outlined their own agenda with ideas in vogue in other GOP-led states. They include allowing parents to claim tax dollars previously allocated to public schools to cover home or private education costs and restricting how public schools discuss gender and sexuality, such as what critics call the “Don’t Tell” law. gay” from Florida. Kelly and Republican leaders also differ sharply on tax cuts.

Kelly was scheduled to give the state of the state on January 11, but tested positive for COVID-19 the day before, only to learn later that it was a false positive. His office went ahead with the release of its proposed $24.1 billion state budget for fiscal year 2024 effective July 1.

Kelly narrowly won re-election in November and opened his second term earlier this month by saying in his inaugural address that Kansas is best governed from “where left and right meet.” She has repeatedly touched on that theme in major speeches.

But the Democratic governor has also previously vetoed Republican proposals on education and a ban on transgender athletes from college, club, and girls’ and women’s K-12 sports. Earlier this month, he dismissed the idea of ​​restricting what schools teach about gender and sexuality.

Asked Monday about the possibility of him embracing an aggressive conservative school choice or “voucher” program, he said: “That’s not going to happen.”

The governor was also cold Monday to a proposed tax cut from Republicans and the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce. He would switch Kansas to a “flat” income tax with a single rate for individuals and corporations, instead of three for individuals and two for corporations.

Kelly held a press conference at a central Topeka center for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking to promote her own tax cut plans.

“He has to be responsible,” Kelly said of a tax plan. When a reporter suggested Monday that Kelly seemed open to a flat income tax, she responded: “I didn’t say that.”

Kelly and lawmakers are eager to cut taxes because the Legislature opened its annual 90-day session earlier this month with projections showing Kansas is on track to end June 2024 with $4.2 billion in surplus cash.

That’s even after the state last year enacted a law that phased out the grocery sales tax over three years. It fell from 6.5% to 4% on January 1 and is set to drop to 2% in 2024 and to zero in 2025.

Top Republicans have resisted Kelly’s plan to eliminate the entire tax this spring, viewing his “flat” income tax as a higher priority.

“What she has proposed is probably not what will happen,” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican.

Every year Kelly has been in office, he has called on lawmakers to expand Medicaid as encouraged by the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010 championed by former President Barack Obama. Republicans strongly opposed to the measure have held enough key leadership positions to block the expansion, even as voters in other Republican-leaning states have embraced it, including Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Kelly has also pushed lawmakers to legalize marijuana for medical uses. While the House passed a plan in 2021, it never got even a committee vote in the Senate.

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