Once again, the Kansas State of the State address fell on the same night as The Chamber’s Legislative Kickoff Dinner for the Missouri General Assembly and I was unable to watch the telecast of the speech. But, there has been no shortage of coverage, personal accounts and almost play-by-play descriptions from colleagues, friends, and many legislators regarding Governor Parkinson’s bold address on Monday night.
I hear he gave a good speech with no notes and no teleprompter; just passion and personal stories about how Kansas’ early respect and investment for higher education enabled the Governor and his family to live the American dream without leaving Kansas. My colleague Cathy Bennett here at The Chamber remembered that her father Governor Robert Bennett was one of the last Governors to deliver his state of the state address with no notes or teleprompters back in the mid 70s. But, in these days that is rare indeed.
Governor Parkinson made many references to the success of key initiatives and programs that have been widely supported and championed by The Chamber and its Board of Directors including the Animal Health Corridor, the KU Cancer Center, and the National Bio Agro Defense Facility in Manhattan. The Chamber’s Board has a long history of supporting investment in higher education and research institutions, and recognizing these institutions as critical economic and workforce development tools for our region.
While everyone is raving about Governor Parkinson’s style and oration, this is not the same enthusiasm for the the Governor’s 1 percent sales tax increase proposal, The Chamber has been interested that several legislators see room for increasing tobacco tax rates up to the national average. For the second year The Chamber, led by the Greater Kansas City Health Council, has supported a responsible increase in tobacco user fees. There are rumors are reeling about plenty of other revenue enhancements that are not exactly tax increases and Representative Kay Wolf tells us the Kansas House Tax Committee on which she serves will be extremely busy this year.
There is no question that, as in Missouri, this will be a difficult year for the Kansas Legislature and many of the policies supported by our Chamber. But, there are two creative options for a transportation funding plan and one may even pass with a goal of instituting funding streams in three years when the economy is on better footing. And, apparently there is growing support for a state-wide smoking ban, which has been supported by The Chamber for three years. Like the Governor said; if North Carolina, the tobacco king, can adopt a smoking ban, it seems reasonable for Kansas to step up to the plate on this issue.
Two repurposed groups are building momentum across the state and organizing to advocate for improved transportation planning, Pre K-12 and higher education, and improved economic development programming. The Kansas Economic Progress Council (KEPC) and a coalition of local Kansas chambers have been working hard to make bold statements about how Kansas businesses support transportation and public education as critical infrastructure tools to support economic development. There is a wealth of knowledge, experience and insight in these two groups representing businesses across the state. We are excited to be working with them and sharing information and strategies.
Again this year, we are pleased Bob Vancrum will be representing The Chamber in Topeka. Bob has served in the Kansas House and Senate and has earned a reputation as “the go-to guy” when it comes to public education policy and historical memory regarding economic development legislation.