Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday set a bold destination - providing health care for every Kansan - but no road map on how to get there.
"We must commit ourselves to the goal that all Kansans will have health insurance, and we must begin now," Sebelius said in her State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature.
But the Democrat starting her second four-year term provided no timeline nor details on achieving universal health care.
Sebelius also pushed for renewable energy, business tax cuts and increased preschool programs, and she voiced concern about global warming.
"Kansas can be a leader in setting a new course and making a new commitment," she said.
Republican leaders said they were ready to deal with Sebelius, but generally said her speech lacked specifics.
On the issue of providing universal health care, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said: "That may be irrational. I don't think that is anything that Kansas wants."
Universal health care
Approximately 300,000 Kansans, nearly one in 10, have no health insurance. And studies show health costs have increased five times faster than wages in the past six years.
"That's having a huge impact on Kansas families," Sebelius said.
She said she will recommend funds to provide health coverage for all children up through age 5 and to provide home-based services for needy Kansans on waiting lists.
But, she added, "It's time to go further."
Kansas State of the State
- 6News video: Sebelius calls for health coverage for all (01-10-07)
- Governor Kathleen Sebelius' 2007 State of the State Address (01-10-07)
- State of the state (01-10-07)
- Governor Kathleen Sebelius' Second Inaugural Address (01-08-07)
- What can Kansans gain from their 2007 Legislature? (01-08-07)
- Douglas County legislators hold breakfast meeting (01-04-07)
- Sebelius to pursue energy strategy in second term (01-03-07)
She said lawmakers, health officials, she and the public need to work together to "achieve universal coverage."
Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, who is serving on a health care task force, said the state must improve its health care system, but he doubted coverage for everyone could be attained in the short term.
"Maybe that's a worthy goal, but it's certainly not something that will happen overnight," Pine said.
"There are other things we can do, like making sure senior citizens can stay in their homes as long as they can," he said.
Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said universal health care should be considered a long-term goal that will require work by the newly formed Kansas Health Policy Authority.
"I'm not expecting anything big on health care for a couple of years. There are certainly some things we can do in terms of children zero to 5," he said.
In her bid, Sebelius puts Kansas among many states trying to come up with ways to reduce health care costs and increase coverage.
On Monday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a sweeping plan to cover California's 6.5 million uninsured. And Massachusetts recently approved a universal health care plan.
On energy, Sebelius set targets, calling for a 20 percent reduction in electric consumption and an increase in wind generation of 20 percent by 2020.
She announced signing an executive order to make state government, including regents universities, more energy efficient.
She said she will promote wind energy by recommending funds for transmission lines to move electricity from wind farms to customers.
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, one of the energy experts in the Legislature, said Sebelius' comments sounded good but lacked substance.
"There was not necessarily a lot of information," Sloan said.
On one hand, she called on Congress to reduce climate changing emissions, but on the other failed to endorse clean coal-burning technologies in Kansas, he said.
Sebelius also touched on numerous other issues confronting the state.
By the end of the month she said she will provide a multiyear plan to address the $727 million worth of repairs at state colleges and universities.
She said she will recommend a "significant" increase in scholarships to help students with tuition.
Sebelius also proposed an office of rural opportunity to spur development in rural areas.
"There is no reason for the future of rural Kansas to be one of faded signs and empty storefronts," she said.
She said assets at Kansas University, Kansas State University and other institutions make the state "well-positioned to become a leader in bioscience research."
For their part, Republicans, who hold sizable majorities in the House and Senate, listened to Sebelius but said they have their own ideas, too.
"We want to listen and be open-minded, but we Republicans are not content to sit quietly and wait; we have moved to action," said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.
Senate Republicans have moved to lock in the final year of the $466 million, three-year school funding increase and organized several task forces to address a number of issues, including public schools, health care, higher education and energy.
Morris said the caucus will come up with proposals to:
¢ Enhance preschool programs and math and science education;
¢ Address repair projects at college campuses and relieve the burden of higher tuition;
¢ Formulate an energy policy and increase production of renewable fuels;
¢ Establish an "animal health corridor";
¢ Increase access to affordable health care.