The following column is by Governor Laura Kelly.
After years of financial crisis, budget catastrophes and devastating cuts to Kansas’ most prized investments, last week I put forth a balanced, commonsense budget that is a first step on Kansas’ road to recovery.
This budget leaves us with the largest ending balance in 20 years and pays down the historic level of debt incurred in the past eight years. I’m also proud to say we did it all without a tax increase.
Budgets reflect our priorities, and my number one priority will always be education. That’s why this budget restores funding to our public schools that was slashed in recent years – ensuring that we meet the needs of our students and teachers once and for all.
The days of doing the bare minimum to fund our schools are over. This year, we can end the cycle of litigation so our schools can focus on what they are designed to do: educate our students and prepare them for the future.
This budget also paves the way for Medicaid expansion so we can provide high-quality, affordable healthcare to 150,000 more Kansans, and critical support to our hospitals and clinics, especially in rural Kansas.
We also made investments in other crucial areas. We recommend adding 55 new child welfare workers to protect our most vulnerable children from abuse and neglect, reinvesting in roads and bridges and reducing transfers from the highway fund, and increasing funding for public safety to better aide Kansas communities.
In addition, over the past few years, the state skipped and reduced payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement Fund (KPERS) to fund budget holes caused by the Brownback tax plan. These irresponsible changes have caused the state’s payments to skyrocket. My budget recommends a re-amortization – or basically a refinancing – of KPERS so that we can make our payments more sustainable over time. To be clear, no retiree benefits, current or future, will be negatively impacted by this plan. In fact, this will put Kansas in a better position to protect retiree benefits in the years to come.
Of course this budget doesn’t fix all the problems created over the last eight years, nor does it fulfill all of my administration’s goals. But it is an important first step that will set the stage for a brighter, more prosperous future for our state.
If we move forward with caution, and continue to focus on our shared priorities, we can make sure that Kansas succeeds for years to come.