(Note: The following is the text of Kansas Senate President Steve Morris' Republican response to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' State of the State speech Monday night.)
Comments on Priorities for 2005 Legislative Session
Senate President Steve Morris
Let me first of all thank Dale Goter and Kansas Public Television for this time to speak with the people of Kansas. I am Steve Morris, President of the Kansas Senate.
This week, Governor Kathleen Sebelius will deliver her State of the State address, outlining her perception of how Kansas is doing and what should be focused on during the 2005 legislative session.
Kansas Public Television has given me the opportunity to offer a Republican perspective on the issues we face and the steps we must take to address those issues.
Clearly, our top priority will be to resolve the issues surrounding the way we fund our public schools. The recent Supreme Court decision gives the Legislature the latitude to take definitive action. There is no need to rush to a hasty short term fix. We should allow the appropriate committees time to examine all options and to propose a responsible funding package for Kansas Public Schools.
We need to think creatively and act boldly but fairly to find an equitable solution that will provide better funding. We want to ensure those dollars go where they are most needed: to the teachers and students in Kansas classrooms. We must carefully balance the needs of diverse school districts. Kansas students deserve equal and excellent educational opportunities regardless of the size of the district in which their school is located.
No one person or political party holds the key to this problem. If we are to craft the best plan, we need to be open to the recommendations of those who have studied this situation in the past. We need to be willing to hear new ideas, discounting nothing until all parties have been heard. We need to be mindful of the impact our decisions will have on the children in our schools, and on the programs and classes that complete their school experience * music, art, sports, theater, all of these are intrinsic to a well rounded education and to the preparation of a young person for the world after graduation. And finally, we must heed the voices of those who would shoulder the burden of paying any new taxes. Before we give in to calls to raise new revenue, we will scrutinize and justify current spending, finding ways to save. It would be imprudent to tax or spend away the beginnings of economic recovery in our state.
The Legislature needs to formulate a comprehensive approach to job creation and business development. Economic and business development is inextricably connected to quality education. If we are to retain our existing industries and businesses, and attract new and better-paying jobs, we must create a tax structure that attracts new business and encourages growth in existing businesses, and an educational system that appeals to employees and their families. Companies grounded in new and developing technologies need to be assured they can depend upon a well trained Kansas workforce. By addressing inequities in our tax system, we can aggressively work to create jobs, to develop businesses large and small, and to foster the entrepreneurial spirit.
The Legislature must strive to make health care and insurance both available and affordable. Working with the Kansas Insurance Department, we can improve the regulatory environment to promote a more competitive atmosphere that will entice more reputable companies to do business in Kansas. Nearly 60% of Kansans are employed by small businesses. Those businesses need to be able to afford health care coverage or pay wages that allow the individuals to secure coverage for themselves. The challenges facing the uninsured and the underinsured will not go away. We need to take definitive action to stabilize and lower these costs..
Among the most vulnerable to skyrocketing costs are the elderly. Property tax increases, lack of access to health care and insufficient or unaffordable insurance weigh most heavily upon them. Their medical needs * including affordable prescription drugs * will be high on the list of Republican priorities. We will continue to examine the issues surrounding the importation of pharmaceuticals, working with the Federal government to ensure the safety of drugs purchased through the mail and across our borders. We need also to work with our pharmaceutical companies to find ways to advance drug research and development without pricing medicine out of the hands of those most in need.
Not to be forgotten are the issues affecting our rural communities. Kansas must protect and preserve its rural heritage. We must ensure that those who live in rural areas have access to quality education, health care and other essential services. Without those amenities, we will see a continued erosion of the quality of rural life and a continued exodus from rural communities. Kansas farmers and ranchers offer a bounty to the nation and the world; let's make sure they can continue to do so for generations to come. We should work to find new and better uses and expanded markets for our agricultural commodities.
The tragedies across the globe of the past year -- our own young men and women bravely heading overseas to confront terrorism, war and strife in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia; bloody civil war in the Sudan, the Congo and other parts of Africa; turmoil in the Ukraine; devastation, death and profound deprivation in the nations around the Indian Ocean * these stand to remind us of the many blessings in our own lives. We have so much for which to be grateful. The cries of the survivors of these tragedies call us to action.
Kansas is enjoying the beginnings of economic recovery. There are encouraging signs of job expansion in aviation, in service industries and in an improving farm economy. We must not jeopardize this recovery. Senate Republicans must join together, reach across the aisle to our Democrat colleagues and across the rotunda to our colleagues in the House of Representatives. Working together, in cooperation with the governor and the courts, we can chart the best course for the State of Kansas.
I look forward to working with my senate colleagues and with the members of the House * both new members and returning veterans. We have much to do, and I am confident we have the enthusiasm, the hope, and the vision to meet the challenge. Republicans in the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives look forward to hearing the Governor's message; but even more, we look forward to upholding the responsibilities entrusted to us by those who have sent us to represent them.
Thank you again to Kansas Public Television for the opportunity to offer a Republican vision for the upcoming legislative session. I am Senate President Steve Morris. Good evening.