TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly delivered the 2021 State of the State Address virtually Tuesday night, broadcasting her speech via her official Facebook page. She began by lamenting that normally she would begin by “looking out over all the familiar faces” in the House chamber of the Kansas Statehouse. Governor Kelly said that rather than delivering a speech, she would be having a conversation with Kansans.
Kelly said that in the weeks and months to come, we need to get every Kansan vaccinated, get the economy moving and get “all our kids back into the classroom”. She told families of COVID-19 victims that her heart is with them; saying, ”we’re all neighbors, and we’re all here to support you.” The governor called Kansans ‘heroic’ for the way they’ve stepped up the past 10 months, saying that the character of Kansas has “been on full display.” She praised the public officials working 24/7 to slow the spread of the virus but balancing the need to keep Kansas in business.
The governor noted that as of Tuesday, 84,555 Kansans have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. She said that her administration expects to be moving into the second phase of vaccine distribution by month’s end. That’s when Kansans 65 and older as well as essential frontline workers (police, firefighters, teachers, meatpacking plant workers, and others) will begin getting their vaccines.
Kelly blasted what she referred to as “misinformation out there” about the vaccines. Citing internet conspiracy theories and attempting to reassure Kansans that the science behind the vaccines is solid. She moved almost seamlessly from discussing the vaccine into Medicaid expansion for another 165,000 Kansans, saying that every resident deserves health care they can afford near their homes.
Further, Governor Kelly introduced her “Framework for Growth”, what she referred to as a comprehensive roadmap to spur the Kansas economy. She then went on to talk about five specific areas of the economy: small business, infrastructure, new job creation, agriculture, and broadband.
Kelly spoke to the unemployed, saying “I know some Kansans have had difficulty getting their unemployment benefits.” She openly admitted that the sheer volume of benefit applications “absolutely overwhelmed” the Kansas unemployment system. The governor said that they’ve fixed many of the immediate problems. According to her, more Kansans have received unemployment benefits since the pandemic started than in the previous 8 years combined. She promised that $37.5 million has been committed from this year’s budget to update old IT systems that have been “neglected for decades.”
Next, she spoke about the work her administration has done to bring new business to Kansas, including Urban Outfitters’ new distribution center at Kansas Speedway and Schwan’s Company’s expansion to it’s Salina facility. She went on to later praise Kansas teachers for their hard work and commitment to educating children in the midst of a pandemic: “Teaching under less-than-ideal circumstances, but never wavering in their commitment to our children.”
Referencing the so-called “Bank of KDOT”, she vowed to “close” it by 2023. She said that previous administrations have used that money as a fund for their pet projects, rather than for what they were originally intended for.
Governor Kelly frequently referenced Democrats and Republicans working together throughout her speech, although she made at least two references to the so-called “Brownback tax experiments”–a clear jab at her predecessor and also some of her former legislative peers who supported him. Toward the end of her speech she called for bi-partisanship to “do what’s best for Kansas. To be better than what we see in Washington.” She said that Kansas leaders must commit to setting an example in their conduct in light of recent events. She closed by honoring now-retired U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, calling him a friend “united in our love for Kansas and its people.”
**SEE RESPONSES BELOW the gallery, including the response of Senate President Ty Masterson (R) and Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes (D).**
Senate President Ty Masterson delivered the Republican response to State of the State address. In it, he said, “It is my sincere hope that we will be able to find common ground on issues where we can agree – and that we can have spirited, yet respectful, debate on the rest. We look forward to working together with the governor and our colleagues across the aisle to put Kansas first, and we sincerely hope they are willing to come to the table and set aside partisan politics for the benefit of our Kansas families.” Masterson’s response was recorded as was the governor’s, meaning he was not afforded the opportunity to hear/see her speech ahead of time. He acknowledged that, thanking the governor for his remarks and saying he would focus on the work Republicans want to do.
Ironically, despite not knowing the governor would reference what she referred to as disastrous tax policies, Masterson blasted the fact that Kansas “currently ranks in the bottom five states in the overall state and local tax burden on families.” He said: “This has to change.” The senator said that Kansans should be trusted to “keep more of their hard-earned money.” Both of their comments signal a potential battle may be brewing between the Republican-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor.
Meanwhile, the Senate Democratic Leader Dina Sykes had this to say in response to the Governor’s words: Governor Kelly’s top priorities have been and remain the safety and prosperity of Kansans. During this year of unprecedented economic and health challenges, she remains committed to balancing our state’s budget, pushing for economic development opportunities to grow our workforce and revenues, and overseeing vaccine distribution that will finally put an end to this pandemic.”
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