Gov. Laura Kelly declared the state of Kansas is improving, with undeniable challenges ahead.

In her recent State of the State speech, Kelly listed proposals easy for all lawmakers to embrace in more resources to address a broken child-welfare system and a thoughtful rural revitalization plan.

On another shared goal — funding core services without raising taxes — different paths to a balanced budget will emerge. Investment in K-12 public schools and Medicaid expansion promise to be major sticking points.

Kelly touched on several issues in her inaugural address but couldn’t include everything. Strategies to combat mental-health problems and pursuit of sound energy initiatives in the midst of climate change also warrant discussion.

On the budget, while out years are a concern, at least legislators won’t wrangle with an immediate crisis — a refreshing turn from gut-wrenching spending cuts and borrowing pursued to pay for deep income-tax cuts pushed by then-Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012 that did nothing but give ultraconservatives in charge an excuse to shrink state government.

Kansans weary of the downward spiral demanded change, which inspired the Legislature’s 2017 overhaul of the reckless tax policy — and also led Democrats and Republicans alike to support Kelly’s successful run for governor.

Still, Senate President Susan Wagle and her far-right GOP allies signaled their intent to battle the new governor instead of seeking middle ground.

Wagle said Kelly’s budget proposal would “squander our fiscal recovery,” a laughable take considering Wagle wholeheartedly supported the tax policy that wrecked the state budget. And how ironic for conservatives to criticize Kelly’s pitch to refinance the state’s employee pension system, KPERS, to help put the state on better financial footing with a recession likely to come, when they irresponsibly accumulated damaging debt in their self-inflicted economic mess. The KPERS plan isn’t ideal, but more proof of the difficulty in mending far-reaching damage.

The Senate president and others in her circle, meanwhile, would best serve Kansas by abandoning ideology-driven stands that fueled bad decision-making.

In her State of the State speech, Kelly asked lawmakers to unite around shared values. “We must always remember that the people who sent us here expect compromise and results,” she said.

At this critical juncture, Kansans do indeed deserve bipartisan problem solving by their representatives in the Statehouse.

 

GateHouse Kansas