2021 State of the State address
Gov. Laura Kelly delivered the annual State of the State address Tuesday evening via a virtual broadcast.
While the speech is typically given to a room full of state senators and representatives, Kelly used the virtual format to “have a conversation” with Kansans about the current circumstances and the plan going forward.
Kelly began her speech with an update on Kansas’s vaccine-distribution efforts, saying that 84,555 Kansans have been vaccinated and that the state is currently in the CDC vaccine tracker’s top tier for “vaccines administered per capita.”
Kansas is currently in phase one of a five-phase plan to distribute the vaccine. Phase one includes healthcare workers and long-term-care workers and residents. Officials hope to enter phase two by the end of January.
Despite the progress, Kelly stated that hospitals are still strained and the efficiency of distribution efforts largely remain dependent on the federal government’s ability to deliver vaccine doses.
The governor also addressed misinformation about the vaccine, emphasizing the legitimacy of scientific research.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation out there about the vaccines,” Kelly said. “Internet conspiracy theories. Complete nonsense. Make no mistake, the science behind the vaccines is solid”
Kelly then used the topic of the pandemic and the need for access to healthcare to transition into speaking about the prospect of Medicaid expansion.
“That’s why I’ll continue to push, over and over again, for what 38 states across the country have done – to expand Medicaid to cover another 165,000 Kansans, to ensure that our rural hospitals remain open and inject billions of dollars into our economy,” Kelly said.
Kelly then jumped into speaking about jobs and the state government’s plan for opening the economy back up.
“We are set to launch the Framework for Growth – a comprehensive roadmap to ensure that the Kansas economy continues to thrive and that our most valuable resource — our young people — have exciting career opportunities right here at home,” Kelly said.
In speaking about the economy, Kelly largely focused on the importance of small businesses and bringing job opportunities to Kansas. In doing so, Kelly lauded the return of the Kansas Main Street Program and the start of the Main Street Affiliate Community program. saying they “provide funding and technical assistance to help transform and strengthen rural downtowns.”
Kelly would later praise the arrival of an Urban Outfitter’s distribution center in Wyandotte County and expansion of a Schwan’s facility in Salina and how these have resulted in the creation of thousands of new jobs.
Next, Kelly addressed unemployment and the issues the state’s online systems experienced as a result of a rise in unemployment-benefit claims.
“To be prepared, should we ever be confronted with a health and economic crisis as staggering as this pandemic, we’ve committed $37.5 million in this year’s budget to update old IT systems that have been neglected for decades,” Kelly said.
According to Kelly, more Kansas have received unemployment benefits over the course of the pandemic than in the previous eight years.
Kelly then spoke about broadband access and how it’s importance has only increased during the pandemic with so many people working or taking classes remotely. In doing so, the governor highlighted the establishment of the Office of Broadband Development, through which about $50 million in Connectivity Emergency Response Grants have been distributed to multiple Kansas communities.
While speaking about the importance of internet access for students and teachers, Kelly also talked about importance of educational funding. She emphasized her desire to steer clear of tax practices similar to those enacted by former Kansas governor Sam Brownback, fully fund education and get back to in-person classes.
“Now that the pandemic has created a new set of challenges – I want you to know that we’re going to get every Kansas student back in the classroom as soon as possible, and provide their teachers with the tools and resources they need to get our kids back on track,” Kelly said.
The portion of Kelly’s speech about education was not the only mention of the state’s budget. Kelly proclaimed that despite the pandemic, the state projects to end the fiscal year with a $600-million ending balance.
Furthermore, Kelly also spoke of closing the “Bank of KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation” by 2023.
“Past administrations have used these critical highway construction dollars as a slush fund for their ideological experiments – which undermined opportunities for infrastructure investments and economic growth,” Kelly said.
While her speech was mostly about issues relating to Kansas, Kelly made it a point to speak about the protests that recently took place in and around the U.S. Capitol.
She says that Kansans on both sides of the political aisle must come together and serve as examples of how to speak to and act around each other.
“And right now, that means doing whatever it takes to get Kansans back to work, back to school – and back to a place where we treat each other with respect and dignity,” Kelly said.
Kelly also spoke about the importance of listening to both health experts and each other moving forward.
As the speech drew to a close, Kelly made sure to mention the retirement of former Kansas senator Pat Roberts and praised him for his service as an elected official.
“Pat was and remains famous, not only for his wit, but for his ability and willingness to work across the aisle,” Kelly said. “He and I are in different political parties, but we’re united in our love for Kansas and its people.”
Republican Party response
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson delivered the Republican Party’s response to Kelly’s State of the State address.
Masterson acknowledged that, due Kelly’s address being recorded, he was not able hear her speech ahead of time and would instead talk about his party’s vision for the upcoming session.
He began his speech by expressing his hope for both parties to come together and address differences of opinion through “spirited, yet respectful, debate.”
“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 said.
Masterson followed this up by saying that, when talking about Kansas, Democrats are talking about the state of the government, while Republicans are instead referring to the state’s people.
He then went on to speak about taxes and how Kansans should be entrusted with more of their “hard-earned money.”
Next, Masterson spoke about how Kansas businesses, not government bureaucrats, should be in charge of determining whether they are “essential” and whether they should be allowed to stay open. He emphasized the importance of these principles when it comes to attracting and retaining new businesses.
Masterson stayed on theme for the remainder of his speech, saying decisions about schools and classes should be left up to local officials and decisions about staying healthy during the pandemic should be left up to families, not the government.
The Republican Party’s response closed with a call for the passage of the Value Them Both Constitutional Amendment, which Masterson claims will give voters a voice when it comes to certain abortion policies.