To make life easier for regional media, the Sentinel will spell out the problem the Kelly administration will face when the 2019 legislative session opens on January 14. So educated, the media will have ten days to prepare set pieces simple enough to be communicated on television.
In layman’s terms, here are the three related phenomena that responsible media outlets will need to make sense of before January 14:
The first is that according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department, the state is projected to spend $600 million more over the next two years than it will collect in taxes and other forms of revenue. This projected revenue includes the windfall from the largest tax hike in state history passed in 2017 and another effective $600 million income tax hike approved in 2018.
The second is that Gov. Laura Kelly wants to spend more than is already budgeted. Reported Kansas Public Radio in November, “Kansas Democratic Governor-elect Laura Kelly is targeting school funding, Medicaid expansion and LGBT protections as some of her top priorities as she prepares to take office in January.”
LGBT protections will cost next to nothing but will solve no known problem. Medicaid expansion will cost money. And by “targeting” school funding, Kelly means increasing it. The education lobby did not help get Kelly elected to see its budgets cut.
In December, in a sit-down interview with Fox 4 KC, Kelly shifted from “campaign promises” to “plans.” Here she was explicit: “We will fully fund our schools. We will work to expand Medicaid, and we will address the life and death issues in our foster care system.” All three of these plans, if realized, will cost multiple millions.
The third puzzle part is that Kelly pledged repeatedly on the campaign trail not to raise taxes. In fact, she promised to balance the budget and cut taxes.
In one very effective television ad, after dismissing Kris Kobach’s proposed tax cuts, Kelly promised her own: “That’s his plan. Here’s mine. Balance the budget without raising taxes and do something that actually helps families get by. Here’s one. Kansas is one of the few states that puts a sales tax on food. My plan would cut it. Because I know a little extra each week goes a long way.”
In capsule, Laura Kelly has promised to cut taxes and balance the budget while increasing the spending for Medicaid, schools, and child services in the face of a projected budget shortfall of $600 million over the next two years. The media with access to Kelly need to ask her how she plans to accomplish this.
“Election promises to spend more money without explaining how to pay for it amounts to legal vote-buying,” said Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert in a Kansas City Star editorial. “More spending means higher taxes unless politicians commit to reducing other costs.” There are ways to reduce costs. The Kelly administration will need to explore those pronto.
In the ten days ahead, we hope to reach out to TV stations in Wichita, Kansas City and Topeka, plus newspapers throughout the state to see if they need any help. The problem is not hard to explain. The $600 million solution? That’s another story.