Aiming for the stars
Sebelius emphasizes energy, education
Topeka ? Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Monday called on Kansas lawmakers to confront climate change, increase education funding and make health care more available.
“Let us once again aim for the stars,” Sebelius said in the State of the State speech to kick off the start of the legislative session.
Sebelius also reaffirmed her endorsement of a 50-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax and a statewide ban on public smoking in indoor places.
Because of the state’s natural resources, Sebelius said Kansas was poised to play a historic role in the nation’s development of wind energy and alternative fuels.
Energy has been front and center before state officials since the Sebelius administration rejected two coal-burning power plants because of concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming.
The political pushback from supporters of the $3.5 billion plants has been fierce and threatened to disrupt the session.
But during her address, Sebelius challenged the Legislature to work with her to put together “a comprehensive climate change action plan.” And she called for a reduction in greenhouse gases.
Pointing out her guests – 1-year-old twins Kimberlin and Samuel Lovell of Mulvane and their parents and grandparents – Sebelius called on lawmakers to do the heavy political lifting now for future generations.
“Let us tonight resolve to create a Kansas in which futures are bright, hopes are realized and our communities are safe and secure,” she said.
Democrats said Sebelius’ speech provided a good outline for the Legislature, while Republicans said the speech lacked details.
“She touched on a lot of things that most people agree with,” state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said. “We are trying to build a state for our children and grandchildren. Energy is important, education is important, but there were a lot of generalities and few specifics,” he said.
State Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, agreed, saying, “The governor touched on all the critical issues that we have all been discussing. I was a little disappointed that she didn’t go into how we are going address them.”
But state Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said, “The governor framed the major challenges we are facing this session.”
He said her appeal to work together was needed because of the political fury that followed the coal-plant decision.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he didn’t believe there was enough support in the Legislature to approve a tax increase on cigarettes, but he agreed with Sebelius on the need to increase development of alternative fuels.
“I think that is one of the keys to our future in this state,” Morris said.
Meanwhile, in a brief Republican response after Sebelius’ speech, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, of Ingalls, said the GOP would focus on slowing government growth, market-oriented fixes to health care, and a crackdown on illegal immigration.
“Like you and your family, the state and its many agencies must live within their means,” Neufeld said.
Sebelius said improvements were needed in the state education system to prepare Kansans for the “innovation economy.”
She endorsed a $122 million increase for public schools next year, as part of a previous commitment. And she also proposed adding funds to implement full-day kindergarten and improve early childhood education.
Neufeld said he agreed with Sebelius on the need to improve prenatal and early childhood health care.
Sebelius said her proposed budget, which will be unveiled today, will include a $3 million increase in scholarships for higher education students.
State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said that will be important.
“This may be more crucial than we think. We may be going into recession, and parents are having a hard time paying for their children” to go to college, she said.
Sebelius said her budget also calls for increased training of pharmacists at Kansas University.
She also vowed to continue the approximately $5 million annual appropriation to the Kansas Cancer Center at KU for efforts to attain national cancer treatment center designation.
Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the Kansas Cancer Center, attended the address and was glad to hear of the commitments to KU.
The annual appropriation “is the lifeblood of the cancer center,” he said.
Key issues on Sebelius’ agenda
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat in her second term, unveiled her goals for the 2008 legislative session during her State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature. Here are some of items on her agenda this year:
¢ Adopt a 50-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax and statewide ban on indoor, public smoking.
¢ Continue state investment of $5 million annually in attaining the National Cancer designation for Kansas University by 2010.
¢ Expand KU School of Pharmacy to eventually double its current size.
¢ Create the Kansas Innovation Consortium through executive order, which would work on the economy.
¢ $2.1 million to support three Offices of Rural Opportunities to attract business development.
¢ To fund the third year of the three-year school finance plan, which will cost $122 million.
¢ Add another year to the three-year plan, which would include $27 million to full-day kindergarten.
¢ $23 million in block grants for early childhood education;
¢ $3 million increase in state scholarship funds, which would help an additional 2,000 students.
¢ $1 million for new teaching scholarships in math, science and technology.
¢ Funding to start up the Kansas Academy of Math and Science at Fort Hays State University.
¢ Make all state buildings meet energy conservation standards.
¢ Increase interest-free loans to improve home energy efficiency.
¢ Develop a comprehensive climate change plan.
¢ Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
¢ Increase renewable sources of energy.
¢ Make Kansas a leader in producing alternative fuels; create a Bioenergy Research Grant Program to look for new fuel technologies.
Republicans hold a 30-10 majority in the Senate and a 77-48 margin in the House. In the GOP speech, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said Republicans would work to:
¢ Slow government growth and spending.
¢ Provide tax incentives for small businesses that provide health insurance and improve the portability of coverage from job to job.
¢ Penalize businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
¢ Provide a back-to-school tax holiday and restructure business taxes.
¢ Compose a state energy policy that encourages nonrenewable and renewable energy sources, and conservation.
¢ Trying to bring a proposed federal homeland security laboratory to Kansas.