Governor-elect Laura Kelly speaks at “My Fellow Kansans”

Wesley Tabor

Kansas Governor-elect Laura Kelly was on campus Wednesday, Dec. 5, as part of the “My Fellow Kansans” podcast hosted by the Kansas News Service.

The fully packed Georgia Neese Gray Theatre was full of individuals excited to hear what Kelly is prioritizing before her arrival at the statehouse.

The budget is always a hot topic for incoming state governors and Kelly is no exception as the entirety of the podcast was dedicated to questions regarding the allocation of state funds for a variety of issues.

Kelly assured her stakeholders that education, Medicaid expansion and the foster care system are her top three priorities heading into office. “I hope to address all of these issues with specific plans within my first session,” said Kelly.

Education was on the discussion table the longest as Kelly has elaborated that state schools have been underfunded for an extended period of time.

The Governor-elect has spent the majority of her time establishing a transition team and evaluating the state’s agencies/departments.

“I am disappointed that the devastation is even worse than I thought,” said Kelly. “It is going to take a long time to put Kansas back on track.”

Kelly elaborated that her transition team has been conducting “deep dives” into the different agencies across the state. Qualifications, vacancies, eliminated or improperly funded programs are all aspects that are being overseen when the transition team runs, essentially an audit of the different departments.

“The problems are broad and they’re deep so we are going to have to approach them like you would a triage,” said Kelly. “We will focus on education and making sure that we’re meeting the constitutional requirements to fund education and we will look to expand Medicaid.”

A legal disagreement over the funding of public schools has desolated the state of Kansas for years and continues to impact the resources for many school districts. “It is my intent to solve the issue of public school funding without raising taxes,” Kelly said.

The school finance plan will be on the table when the state’s budget has been approved and confirmed.

“We’ll find out when the budget comes out that we can afford it,” said Kelly. “I think most people, all Kansans perhaps, are tired of having this issue in court and I think if we were to not address it would be critically irresponsible.”

When asked if money problems, as a state, were over… Kelly replied, “I wish, but they are much better… we need some steady years of growth.”

Additionally, Medicaid expansion is at the forefront of issues that Kelly has shared with her transition team early in the process. Medicaid promises to be number two on her list of priorities.

“There’s a whole bunch of different ways you can do Medicaid expansion,” said Kelly. “We’ve been reviewing the models that other states have in place and then implementing a plan that fits within our budgetary constraints. We want put together a very specific plan for Kansas.”

Many stakeholders and Kansans are concerned for the future of state taxes and whether these two improvements can be made without tax increases. Individuals believe that a “de facto tax increase” is likely, however, Kelly has stated that she intends to take the road of fiscal responsibility.

The long list of demands ranging from transportation, food tax, incarceration and the state’s foster care system are all on the radar—what is of the upmost importance heading into office.

“Education is number one, Medicaid expansion although we might be able to design that in a way that’s revenue neutral and then foster care,” said Kelly. These are the issues that consist of the proposed triage by the Governor-elect.

The Governor-elect has continually alluded to that she will be especially careful when expending large amounts of funds. The one exception to large expenditures may reside in the area of mental health because of Kelly’s personal background and career history.

“I started my career in the mental health field and I worked with children with severe mental health issues in a state psychiatric facility in New York and have been working very closely with mental health advocates,” said Kelly. “I’m a big believer in pre-prevention… I want to leave, as my legacy, a very robust earlier childhood program across the state of Kansas that I will start this fiscal year.”

When asked what population the Governor-elect was eluding to she replied with “I believe that early childhood education is good for everybody.”

Kelly reiterated that her success in office is going to be dependent upon the cooperativeness with the legislature. “It’s all about reaching compromise,” said Kelly.

The legislature, in years past, has struggled with issues of education, Medicaid and the foster care system so only time will tell if this shift in majority will enhance the state’s outlook.

“We have to fulfil our promises that we made a long time ago,” said Kelly. “I ran because I wanted to be in position to help put our state back together—that was always the way I was focused as a state senator.”

The Governor-elect will be sworn into office Jan. 14, 2019, and will be the 48th Governor of Kansas and the third woman to hold the state office.