Sam Brownback has resigned his Kansas governorship. Jeff Colyer has moved up to take his place. Colyer is running for a full term of his own with a campaign website that proclaims “A New Day for Kansas,” in a clear attempt to indicate distance between himself and the departing Brownback.
Does Gov. Colyer really represent a new day, or is he just using an updated version of Brownback’s old slogan: “The sun is shining in Kansas?”
Colyer has a mountain of work to do to make his “new day” claim truly meaningful. After all, as lieutenant governor, he was present every step of the way during the Brownback administration. With Brownback, he engineered the Kansas tax experiment that inflicted a multi-year budget crisis on Kansas and set back public education funding to the point that the Supreme Court declared the system unconstitutional. Just changing the nameplate on the governor’s office and shuffling staff can not erase that.
Colyer needs something big if he is to truly move in a new direction. He has an easy option, ripe for picking. Sign a Medicaid expansion bill.
Expanding eligibility for Medicaid would allow 150,000 Kansans to gain health insurance. Many of those are working Kansans who earn too much to be eligible for the current Medicaid program, but cannot access federal health insurance subsidies. Hospitals in every corner of the state would have a better chance of staying solvent if Kansas would expand Medicaid. And the federal government would pay almost the whole cost.
Surveys show a large majority of Kansans favor expansion. In the last legislative session, most of our current legislators voted to expand, and they’re ready to vote for expansion again. Until now, Brownback single-handedly thwarted Medicaid expansion, which has cost Kansas more than $2.4 billion in federal dollars. This was a huge financial policy failure as well as a moral one.
Colyer could put that failure behind us and show his governorship actually is something different. The Legislature is ready. Kansas citizens are ready. Colyer only needs to say, “I’ll sign expansion,” to enact the policy. The decision sits squarely on his shoulders.
He can call it “KanCare expansion.” KanCare is the semi-privatized Kansas version of Medicaid, and Colyer is the program’s father. As lieutenant governor, he led KanCare’s launch with the twin goals of saving money and delivering better care. It’s logical he’d want that expanded to more people.
Last week, expansion proponents packed the Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearings and submitted an enormous stack of testimony. But expansion was opposed by a tired set of conservative think tanks who went so far as to baldly claim Kansans who would become eligible for Medicaid under expansion would be hurt by having health insurance. Unfortunately, Gov. Colyer sent a cabinet secretary to stand with the opposition group. That’s same old, same old. That’s a Brownback play.
By the time he resigned, Brownback was a deeply unpopular governor. Colyer must cut himself loose from that legacy. With less than six months to go before the primary election, Kansans are about to find out if Colyer is serious about a “new day.”
Duane Goossen formerly served 12 years as Kansas budget director.