Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly gave the annual State of the State address Jan. 11, before a joint session of the Kansas Legislature.
In her prepared remarks, Kelly led off by recognizing those health care workers who had helped the state weather the COVID-19 pandemic, praising the “neighbor-helping-neighbor” spirit of the state.
She ticked off the wins of the state in the past year: Creation of 30,000 new jobs; unemployment rate below 4% for more than a year; and in 2021 alone, the private sector investing nearly $3.8 billion in new facilities and equipment.
She emphasized that even during the pandemic, the state government saw record economic growth through the combination of budget management and record investment in the state.
“I’m proud to say we have the largest budget surplus in the past 40 years,” she said. “That’s the largest surplus in 40 years — all while balancing the budget and fully funding our schools.” She said the state has paid down debts and added $600 million to the state Rainy Day Fund, to make sure schools and law enforcement are always funded, even if the economy takes a turn for the worse.
But she spent quite a bit of time on what Kansas farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses have done for the betterment of the state’s economic future. “Everyone in this room knows, as I do, that agriculture built the Kansas economy, and it will always be the backbone of our state,” Kelly said.
The State of the State covered several topics of particular interest to Kansas farmers and ranchers:
• Tax rebate. Every working Kansan who filed taxes in 2021 will get a $250 rebate this year, or a $500 rebate for married couples filing jointly.
• Grocery tax. Kelly reiterated the bipartisan support for ending the state’s sales tax on food, and she called on the Legislature to send a bill to her desk to end the tax by Kansas Day, Jan. 29. “We must not delay,” she said. “Every day we delay costs Kansas families money, each and every day. It will be a win for every one of you in this room. And more importantly, a win for working Kansans.”
• Tuition freeze. Kelly’s proposed budget includes a total freeze on college tuition increases, in order to give something back to students who had their education disrupted by the pandemic.
• Business environment. In the past three years, Kansas has secured more than $7.6 billion in new business investments and expansion projects in the state, including the Hilmar Cheese plant coming to Dodge City, Superior Boiler in Hutchinson, and the Schwan’s pizza plant in Salina. “It means jobs for Kansans living in our cities, and in our suburbs and in our rural communities,” she said.
• State Water Plan. Kelly announced her budget will restore full funding to the State Water Plan, the five-year blueprint for action to secure a reliable, high-quality water supply for Kansas communities and farmers. This will be the first time the plan will be fully funded in 15 years, she said.
• Farm exports. Kelly applauded Kansas agricultural producers for persevering through the pandemic disruptions and surpassing the $4 billion mark in exports for the second consecutive year — a feat not accomplished in nearly a decade, she said.
• State offices. Kelly said her administration has put growing the rural economy at the top of its list. She touted the creation of the Office of Rural Prosperity, the Office of Broadband Development and the restart of the Kansas Main Street program.
Kelly introduced her proposed fiscal year 2023 budget Jan. 12.
“Fully funding K-12. Closing the Bank of KDOT [Kansas Department of Transportation]. Balancing our budget. This is what the people of Kansas elected me to do,” Kelly said in a statement. “This budget not only restores state funding for critical services, it cuts the state sales tax on food. I encourage the Legislature to waste no time and send me a clean bill to ‘Axe the Food Tax.’”
The proposed budget fully funds K-12 education, meeting the requirements of the Gannon settlement, for a fifth year. It also freezes tuition at four-year institutions and includes additional funding for need-based aid, Excel in CTE (career technical education), and National Guard scholarships, so that more Kansans can afford the education and training they need to qualify for in-demand jobs, according to the governor’s office.
To read more, visit budget.kansas.gov.