Kansas governor warns passage of constitutional amendment will invite wave of abortion restrictions
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly warned passage of an amendment removing the right to abortion from the Kansas Constitution would prompt an emboldened Republican-led Legislature to pass new restraints on the right of women to control their reproductive health.
“The amendment is written in such a way that the proponents of the amendment want to suggest that this would just leave things as they are in Kansas. But that’s not true,” Kelly said during the Kansas Reflector podcast. “What would happen if that amendment would pass is that the Legislature would immediately come back with some very severe restrictions on a woman’s ability to control her own fate.”
Kelly said she was voting against the amendment because it was essential to reinforce the right of women to maintain bodily autonomy. She expected the statewide vote to be “very close.” It follows the June reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed nationwide the right to abortion.
Voting in Kansas closes Aug. 2 on the amendment, which was drafted by opponents of abortion and approved by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate. Campaign finance reports show more than $11 million has been spent to influence public opinion on the amendment.
Kelly said she was confident in the security and accuracy of voting in this and future Kansas elections, because state and local officials took their duties seriously.
“You know, I think if you want to have a voice in what happens in your life in your world, then it’s important that you take the time, make the effort to go to the polls and elect people you think will truly represent your values,” the governor said.
Kelly is seeking reelection as governor in November. She will be competing against Republican Derek Schmidt, the state’s attorney general and a former colleague of Kelly’s in the Kansas Senate. In addition, state Sen. Dennis Pyle, a conservative Republican from Hiawatha, is collecting petition signatures in an attempt to get on the Nov. 8 ballot as an independent candidate for governor.
Kelly said during the podcast interview she would focus her campaign on “bread-and-butter” issues of education, transportation, health care, tax relief, the social safety net, economic development and stability of the state budget. She was elected in 2018 following eight years with Republican Govs. Jeff Colyer and Sam Brownback at the helm.
“Our budget was a mess when I came into office,” Kelly said. “We have now fully funded our schools for the last four years. That was incredibly important to Kansans. Not only have we been able to fully fund, you know, basic essential services in the state, we’ve also been able to eliminate the sales tax on food. And we are now sitting on the largest ending balance in the state’s history. We’ve got about $1.5 billion in our ending balance.”
In the 2022 legislative session, Kelly and legislators set aside nearly $1 billion in a rainy day fund for future use by the state and invested more than $1 billion in the state’s pension system. State lawmakers adopted an unprecedented economic development incentive program relied upon by the Kelly administration to leverage $829 million to attract a $4 billion Panasonic vehicle battery plant to Johnson County.
Kelly said growth in the state’s economy during her term was important to recovery from Brownback-era tax policies that starved the state treasury. Funding was cannibalized from government agencies, including the Kansas Department of Transportation, as revenue plummeted. The Brownback income tax “experiment,” as he referred to it, was largely repealed in 2017 by the Legislature.
“If I wanted to be able to fund the services that I felt essential — our roads, our schools, our foster care system — that I was going to have to grow this economy and do it quickly,” said Kelly, a Democrat. “I have no interest in raising taxes. I think our property taxes are too high. And, obviously I wanted to eliminate food sales tax. So the only other way to accomplish my goals was to grow the economy and increase the amount of revenue coming into the state.”
With the Panasonic development, which includes 4,000 direct new jobs, Kelly said the state had benefitted from $13.5 billion in capital investments and creation or preservation of 50,000 jobs since she became governor.
“We looked back at the last administration to see what had happened over their eight years, and they brought in less new capital investment in eight years than we have done in three and a half,” Kelly said.
Kelly predicted that following her reelection in November the Legislature would pass a bill expanding eligibility for Medicaid services to lower-income Kansans.
The Legislature approved expansion in 2017, but Brownback vetoed the measure. Since then, the House and Senate haven’t agreed on an expansion plan.
“I presented four different proposals for Medicaid expansion,” Kelly said. “I think that leadership will finally let the rank and file vote on it. You know, our rural hospitals desperately need this, but even our urban hospitals. They’re taking care of a lot of uncompensated care patients.”
Kelly signed a bill this year eliminating the state’s 6.5% sales tax on groceries over a three-year period starting in 2023. She had proposed repeal of the food sales tax effective July 1. If reelected, Kelly said she would again seek immediate end of the state sales tax on groceries.
“That’s precisely what I would want to do,” Kelly said. “I’ll come back with my original proposal. There’s really no reason not to go ahead and just do it.”