TOPEKA, KS (AP) – The governor of Kansas, Laura Kelly, called on Wednesday for a new program to improve the state’s roads and bridges. She urged lawmakers to approve a Medicaid bipartisan expansion plan and warned that she was likely to oppose Republican income tax cuts.
The democratic governor presented the outline of her agenda for the annual 90-day meeting of the GOP-controlled legislature during her speech. But her second address since taking office a year ago was often a look back at her first year in office and an experiment to lower the republican predecessor’s tax, which was accompanied by persistent budget problems.
Kelly promised her own tax cuts, but signaled that it would be a modest initiative to reduce the tax burden on low-income families on food sales taxes and state aid to cities and counties, in the hope that they would lower their property taxes. She also stressed her support for a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico approved by the US House of Representatives and called on the US Senate to approve it.
Kelly spent much of her speech arguing that Kansas is gradually recovering from the country’s notorious income tax cuts promoted by former GOP governor Sam Brownback. Lawmakers reversed most cuts in 2017, and Kelly won the governor’s race in 2018 primarily through campaigns against Brownback’s policies.
“We have so many reasons to be hopeful tonight,” said Kelly. “But don’t make a mistake: a year of progress cannot wipe out a decade of damage.”
Kelly’s government plans to release Thursday morning details of its planned state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The current state budget is $ 18.4 billion.
House spokesman Ron Ryckman Jr., a republican from Kansas City, said in a GOP response that Kelly was determined to expand the state government.
“No difference in our visions is as strong as this,” said Ryckman. “She wants to increase spending and hopes that the state will grow.”
But even when Kelly argued that the state had recovered from its “life-support work,” she admitted that the key industries of agriculture and aviation remain “incredibly fragile” in the state economy.
Kelly delivered her speech less than a week after the aircraft supplier Spirit AeroSystems announced 2,800 layoffs in Kansas or 20% of its state workforce, primarily in Wichita. The layoffs occurred after Boeing ceased production of his troubled 737 Max aircraft.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita republican, said the state must determine how the 737 Max can go back into production.
“We have to hire these people again,” said Wagle, adding that she hoped “to get it resolved” before unemployment benefits expired.
Legislators opened their session on Monday with a bipartisan plan waiting for Medicaid state health insurance to expand to up to 150,000 additional people. Kelly reached an agreement last week with Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, another Republican from Kansas City.
Denning and other GOP leaders blocked an expansion plan that Kelly favored last year, raising concerns about the potential cost and type of management.
“We’re so close,” said Kelly. “Let’s do it.”
Denning’s deal with Kelly is expected to pave the way for Kansas to become the 37th state to expand Medicaid. Wagle confirmed this during a press conference.
But Wagle, an opponent of expansion, said that some Republicans want to include a job request and language to ensure that public funds cannot be used for abortions. Some Republicans are still concerned about long-term costs for the state, although the federal government is said to take over 90%.
Kelly’s call for a new transportation program went hand in hand with government resolution projects, announced as part of a ten-year plan that started in 2009, that were financed from bonds, vehicle registrations, gasoline tax, and sales tax revenue. The program was supposed to be worth $ 8 billion, but lawmakers pulled out $ 2 billion to plug holes elsewhere in the budget.
Secretary of Transportation Julie Lorenz and her staff held months of community gatherings and identified $ 18 billion in infrastructure needs.
“It is time for us to develop a new, comprehensive transportation plan so we can rebuild roads and bridges across our state,” said Kelly.
The governor added what she called a “critical” condition: “stable government revenue”.
MP Sean Tarwater, a republican from the Kansas City region who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was skeptical about starting a new transportation program.
“With Medicaid expansion on the horizon, I’m not sure we can afford it,” said Tarwater.
The democratic governor and the republican leadership were already faced with renewed arguments over income tax cuts after opposing two GOP tax laws last year. The government’s heads of state and government want to lower taxes for individuals and businesses who are now paying more income taxes to the state, as President Donald Trump voted in late 2017 to change the federal tax code.
“We believe this has contributed to the growth of the economy across the country,” said Wagle.
Kelly promised to reject “any tax burden” that “throws our state back into the financial crisis”. She had argued that last year’s GOP tax burdens would “decimate” the state government.
“We just can’t go back,” she said.
Kelly, an advocate of abortion rights, did not mention one issue that was of paramount importance to many Republicans: overturning the Kansas Supreme Court decision last year to protect abortion rights. They are pursuing a change in the state constitution to allow lawmakers to regulate abortion as in the past, with a number of restrictions before Kelly took office.
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