Senate President Susan Wagle vowed Wednesday to battle Gov. Laura Kelly on Medicaid expansion, school funding and tax policy in the interest of limited government and a responsible budget.
The GOP leader from Wichita warned Kelly's initiatives will jeopardize progress made by lawmakers in recent years to stabilize the state's finances.
"As 2019 begins," Wagle said, "revenues have rebounded and we have a small surplus. Unfortunately, Gov. Kelly’s first budget would squander our fiscal recovery with a massive spending increase that would deepen our debt and require another major tax hike."
Wagle's response to the Democratic governor's State of the State address makes clear that the fate of a $900 million surplus is largely in the hands of a GOP-controlled Legislature.
The Republican majority, Wagle said, will work to pay off debts to the state pension plan; defend Second Amendment rights; confront the Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare"; and allow itemized deductions while taking the higher standard deduction installed by President Donald Trump.
"In fact, we will pass a bill that allows Kansans to take full advantage of the Trump tax cut," Wagle said. "Gov. Kelly has vowed to fight the decoupling of federal and state tax deductions, but we’re not backing down."
Taking aim at one of Kelly's core goals of expanding Medicaid, Wagle said the state instead should work with the Trump administration to deliver greater choice and more affordable options for health coverage. Kansans are suffering from skyrocketing premiums that followed passage of the Affordable Care Act, Wagle said.
By loosening Medicaid eligibility, the state would extend coverage to an estimated 150,000 low-income Kansans. A bill passed and vetoed two years ago expected a $26 million impact on the state's general budget for fiscal year 2020.
On school finance, the GOP leader complained that Kelly was surrendering to the edicts of an unelected Kansas Supreme Court. Last year's Legislature passed a plan to phase in more than $500 million in annual funding for public schools, but the high court ordered an upward adjustment to properly account for inflation.
Kelly is in favor of complying with the court's order. Wagle said the focus should be on student outcomes.
"We need to transform schools so every high school graduate is career or college ready," Wagle said. "Students on an alternative track to a four-year college should have every chance to succeed. That’s why we are going to continue to support job training and protect our investments in technical and trade schools."
Kelly has said she will rely on the relationships she made while representing Topeka in the Senate for the past 14 years and work to build bipartisan coalitions to support her goals. Wagle said the Republican majority in the Senate is prepared to work with their former colleague, but not at the expense of Kansas families.
As a candidate, Kelly promised no new taxes. Her budget, Wagle said, would "absolutely require them."
"We will pass a responsible budget, pay off our debts and invest in education," Wagle said. "For Kansans working in today’s economy, we will pass on the full benefit of the Trump tax cut, so they can have more money in their pocket to save for the future.
"These are the priorities of Senate Republicans because they are the priorities of the people of Kansas. We hope the governor joins us in pursuing the path to prosperity that invests more in our people, not bigger government."