Gov. Laura Kelly said during her inauguration address that Kansas politicians should work together for good policy. But her agenda likely faces strong opposition from Republican lawmakers.
TOPEKA — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly called for bipartisanship during her inauguration address on Monday amid strong Republican opposition in the Kansas Statehouse.
While remembering the challenges and successes of her first term, Kelly asked Kansas politicians for civility and kindness. She said that the state can avoid the destructive and polarized politics that pit Democrats and Republicans against each other at the national level.
Kelly said political leaders were able to work together in Kansas during her first term to bring stability to a state government that was left with budget problems by her Republican predecessors, Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer. The state now has a $2 billion budget surplus.
“We got our state back on track,” Kelly said, “and we did it by working together — as one Kansas. Not western or eastern, not Democrat or Republican.”
Kelly did not announce any specific policy plans, but she said her second term will be guided by the pursuit to make Kansas the best place in America to raise a family.
But whether the state’s politicians work together and enact Kelly’s agenda will largely depend on Republican lawmakers. The GOP continues to hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate, partly because of a deepening political divide between urban and rural parts of the state.
That means Republican lawmakers will be able to ignore Kelly’s proposals to enact their own plans and override her vetoes without bipartisan support.
Kelly won re-election over Republican challenger Derek Schmidt, the outgoing attorney general, by presenting herself as a business-friendly moderate. That image was boosted by the state’s all-time low unemployment rate and her administration landing a $4 billion manufacturing plant that promises to bring 4,000 new jobs to the state.
Kelly has also called for enacting new tax cuts, including speeding up the phase-out of the state’s food sales tax. She has proposed that and other cuts to provide $500 million of tax relief over the next three years.
But Republican leaders in the Statehouse have rarely backed her plans. They may seek to make different cuts, like reducing income taxes.
Republican Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn recently said with new leadership in the House, the Legislature’s top Republicans have not yet had a chance to discuss tax strategy for this year. But he knows cutting taxes will be a priority.
“Taxes will be a very up-in-front issue with the surplus that we’re having in the bank because of the good strong economy in Kansas,” Wilborn said.
Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.
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