Good evening, and thank you to Jesse Huxman of the Kansas Public Telecommunications Service for providing this forum. Thanks also to Dave Kendall with Washburn University’s KTWU for working with my office to coordinate studio time and taping.
I am Stephen Morris, President of the Kansas Senate. It is my responsibility tonight to offer the Legislative Republican perspective on the State of the State. This commentary is traditionally referred to as the “Republican Response” to the Governor’s address. That is misleading, though, because no one is allowed to preview the Governor’s speech before it is aired. So for our purposes, let’s just consider this an overview of the Republican perspective and priorities for the 2009 Legislative Session.
We cannot begin without acknowledging the impact of the faltering economy. We are well aware of the budget pressures we face, and we are equally aware of the recession currently affecting the U.S. Certainly, the Legislature will need to make the necessary adjustments to balance the budget. But let me make it very clear that Legislative Republicans do not believe it is prudent to consider tax increases at this time. Although we will be looking at a variety of ways to deal with lower revenues and higher costs, we do not intend to raise taxes on individuals or businesses already struggling under the economic downturn.
In Kansas, the two biggest budget items are Medicaid and K-12 public education. Medicaid and education have seen the greatest increases over the past several years. Since Fiscal Year 1999, Medicaid’s share of the budget has grown by 141 percent, increasing from $393 million to more than $947 million. That’s nearly a billion dollars out of the State General Fund for Medicaid alone, and that does not include administrative costs.
The cost of K-12 Public Education is another major contributor to our budget difficulties. The Supreme Court mandated huge funding increases for K-12, which took effect in FY2005. K-12 now claims more than 50 percent of the state general fund budget.
Medicaid and K-12 represent the greatest costs to the state budget, so both must be considered “on the table” in any discussions to balance the budgets for FY 2009 and 2010. These will not be easy decisions to make. But just as individuals and families are having to reconsider budget priorities under current economic conditions, the Legislature has the responsibility to do the same for the State of Kansas.
To offset disappointing budget news, it is encouraging to know we are on the threshold of one of the most exciting projects in Kansas history. Manhattan, Kan. has been selected as the site for The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility – NBAF. Kansas competed against a number of states to earn consideration for this prestigious and critical national security project. As competitors fell by the wayside, Kansas intensified its cooperative and coordinated efforts to win. Final contestants included Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and New York. The project specifications were exacting and challenging. Every finalist was willing to fight to the end to win such a tremendous economic boon, particularly in the shadow of the nation’s recession. In what stands to be both an economic and scientific triumph, Kansas presented the most viable proposal and was awarded this huge opportunity. A consortium of public and private leaders fought for this $650 million federal lab and committed substantial funds to it. The project will deliver about 1,500 jobs during its construction phase, and up to 500 jobs once it is fully operational. Its economic impact will be huge, and the ripple effects will be felt throughout the state for years to come.
NBAF will protect American agriculture and establish Kansas as the undisputed leader in animal health research. It will become a major component of the “animal health corridor” which continues to grow and develop, extending from Manhattan to Kansas City. Forty percent of the world’s animal health companies are located along that corridor. And in addition to pouring revenue into the local and state economies, NBAF will be working to protect Kansas and the rest of the nation from losses that could accompany a major disaster in the agricultural sector, such as an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. NBAF provides an exciting boost for Kansas in its race to the forefront of the animal health industry and to its rightful place as a major player in national security efforts.
Science and technology are two of the most powerful and enduring contributors to economic vitality and quality of life. Kansas has a great technological heritage. Innovation in bioscience will help lead Kansas’ economic recovery: innovation is coming from our universities, medical centers, and a multitude of technology-intensive businesses. Kansas’ economic recovery will be led by innovative bioscience companies all across the state that are developing and producing new products and processes, creating new jobs, attracting capital, and producing wealth.
Kansas has unique tools already in place to seize national and even international leadership in the biosciences: The Kansas Legislature established the Kansas Bioscience Authority to promote bioscience research and development in areas including animal health, bioenergy, biomaterials, drug development, and plant biology. The Authority is focused on leveraging the state’s existing strengths to expand bioscience research; fostering the formation and growth of bioscience startups; and facilitating industry expansion statewide. Its goal is nothing short of playing a major leadership role on the international level.
The Kansas Bioscience Authority has succeeded beyond our expectations and deserves our continued support. Kansas ranks in the Top 10 states in the nation for biotechnology according to Business Facilities magazine — a clear sign of our strong forward momentum.
Over the past four years, research spending has surged by over $100 million; bioscience companies have attracted more than $125 million in private investment; and bioscience companies have added more than 1,100 new jobs. And the Kansas Bioscience Authority was integral to the efforts to win the NBAF contract.
As we pursue the exciting new possibilities and opportunities in bioscience, we must not lose ground in other major policy areas. Led by Republicans, the 2008 Legislature made significant progress in health care reform with its funding for safety net clinics. These clinics make health care and preventive health care services more accessible and affordable for more Kansans. Increased numbers of people have already begun to take advantage of the safety net clinics. We must continue to fund these vital links to good health care.
We expanded Healthwave, the Kansas version of SCHIP, the popular State Child Health Insurance Program offered by the federal government. Healthwave will now be able to provide coverage for an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 additional Kansas children who are eligible for the program.
We demonstrated our commitment to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to bring uninsured children under the umbrella of services provided through Medicaid and SCHIP. We will be equally committed to identifying and removing barriers that prevent Kansans from accessing vital programs and services.
A few years ago, significant legislation was passed to address the critical shortage of nurses in Kansas. Now, we have enabled an expansion at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy to address the increasing need for pharmacists across the state. Recognizing the limitations of our current resources, we must continue to do everything possible to provide the greatest number of Kansans with easier access to affordable, quality health care.
Just as a healthy circulatory system is essential to good overall physical health, a well maintained and well planned transportation system is vital to the state’s health. Not only is it imperative to be able to move people and goods safely and efficiently, but a good transportation system serves as a catalyst for economic growth and development.
Kansas is in the final year of its second 10-year comprehensive transportation plan. We have been very successful in developing excellent long range plans for our vital transportation infrastructure maintenance and enhancement. Our commitment to a long range transportation plan in the past has moderated the effects of previous recessions. Such a plan will help see us through this one, too.
We may be short on dollars, but we cannot afford to be short on vision. We must dedicate ourselves to crafting a truly comprehensive program, one that encompasses the entire scope of transportation, including railroads, airports, mass transit, highways, and bridges....the full spectrum of transportation.
The significance of the comprehensive transportation plan cannot be overemphasized. Kansas simply cannot progress without an excellent transportation system. This is one of the factors businesses and industries consider when weighing the possibility of expanding an existing facility or locating a new facility in a state. We need to urge those whose livelihoods revolve around the maintenance, improvement and expansion of every aspect of our transportation system to remain focused. The road projects themselves will create thousands of jobs for a trained and willing workforce. The economic development that follows our transportation system will create thousands more. There is talk of an Infrastructure Stimulus Package from the Federal level. The timing is perfect for Kansas to fully capitalize on infrastructure stimulus funding and to maximize its benefit to our 10 year comprehensive transportation plan. Kansas is still, by and large, a rural state. We rely on our transportation system to bring us together, to keep us united, and to allow us to prosper.
Over the past 12 months we have seen major fluctuations in energy costs. Developing a statewide comprehensive energy plan is imperative to Kansas’ ability to progress and to continue to provide energy that is accessible, affordable and reliable. There is a lot of debate on forms of energy – wind, solar, nuclear, coal, geothermal, natural gas, alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. I am convinced all will be vital to Kansas’ future and to the future of the United States. I am absolutely convinced we will need every single megawatt of power from every conceivable energy source to feed the ever- increasing energy appetite of our state and the nation.
We must strike a balance between our responsibilities as good stewards of the environment and our equally important responsibility to provide affordable energy to all Kansans. I believe Republicans in the legislature have the best opportunity to craft an energy plan that respects the environment and ensures common sense regulatory oversight of the energy industry in our state.
Kansas absolutely has to establish regulatory stability. Existing and prospective industries have to know with certainty what is expected of them. We cannot encourage expansion or attract new industry unless there is a level playing field, one that puts Kansas on an equal footing with other states, one that does not penalize one industry while overlooking another. Legislative Republicans are prepared to fulfill their due diligence in crafting a comprehensive statewide energy plan. We will ensure that the final product provides the regulatory stability we need. We will make certain Kansas’ energy plan meets the ultimate criteria: to provide accessible, reliable, affordable energy to all Kansans.
The men and women who will serve in the Kansas Legislature during the 2009 legislative session face a number of significant challenges. Although we bring different ideas, strengths, experiences and biases to the process, you have elected us to represent your best interests. Your best interests can only be served through sound public policy. And so we will begin this drawn out, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately effective process.
Make your ideas known. Contact your state representative or state senator if you have questions. Keep track of legislation that interests you. Stay engaged in the process, and I promise you we will do our very best to deserve your confidence.
Thank you again to KPTS and KTWU for the opportunity to offer these comments. Thanks especially to you, the viewers. Again, I am Senate President Stephen Morris.