TOPEKA — Laura Kelly wants to pump more money into public schools, low-income health care, transportation, the arts and social services.
But first, the Democratic nominee for governor plans to let the dust settle on federal and state tax changes that could reshape revenue outlooks.
If elected in November, Kelly told The Topeka Capital-Journal's editorial advisory board, she will forge a new path for the state, but the vast overhaul she envisions will have to wait until at least mid-2019, when new estimates for tax collections will be available.
"It's not something we can do overnight," Kelly said. "It will take years."
The state senator from Topeka faces Republican Kris Kobach, independents Greg Orman and Rick Kloos, and Libertarian Jeff Caldwell in the gubernatorial race.
Kelly's campaign is built around the premise that former Gov. Sam Brownback's supply-side tax policy obliterated government services that now need to be restored. Kobach supports the Brownback tax policy, saying it failed because declining revenues weren't offset by more severe cuts to government spending.
"You can cut government," Kelly said, "but at some point you're into the marrow, and we've gone way beyond. So we've got a lot of work to do."
The Legislature in 2016 increased the sales tax to deal with annual budget problems caused by the elimination of business income taxes and a reduction in personal income tax rates. A year later, lawmakers reversed most of the Brownback tax policy.
Now, Kelly said, the state has exceeded revenue estimates for 15 straight months. That cash will pay for a court-mandated increase in school funding, she said.
Her next priority is to expand Medicaid to 150,000 low-income Kansans, unlocking federal funds. She said there already is enough money available to pay for the 10 percent of expansion costs that fall upon the state, and that expansion would spur economic growth.
Other priorities, such as re-establishing the Kansas Arts Commission, which Brownback dissolved, and adding social workers at the Department for Children and Families, would have to wait until she can get a clearer picture of the state's long-term finances.
Kelly said she would embrace tax reform based on balancing revenue between sales, property and income taxes. As it is, she said, property taxes are too high, and "we clearly need to do something about the sales tax here."
Running for governor "was not ever on my bucket list," she said, but after several conversations with former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and fearful of seeing Kobach in Cedar Crest, she threw her hat in the ring last December.
"It really was because I couldn't sit back and let Kris Kobach become governor," Kelly said. "I mean, we've already been through a world of hurt. I didn't want us to go back there, and even worse."