Kelly: Experience counts in her bid for Democratic bid for governor

State Sen. Laura Kelly said that if Kansas, while facing significant fiscal challenges, follows a disciplined path, it can turn its fortunes around and grow the state’s economy.

Kelly, 68, D-Topeka, has been active in association management including 18 years as executive director of the Kansas Parks and Recreation Association. Kelly said farmers and ranchers and rural residents understand fiscal responsibility and she agrees with that philosophy.

Her commitment to agriculture, she says, includes the addition of fellow state Sen. Lynn Rogers, Wichita, a retired executive from Farm Credit Services.

“Lynn understands the agriculture economy from farmers and ranchers to agribusinesses and to agricultural companies,” she said and as a result that commitment means farmers and ranchers will have an advocate for them and she will listen to Rogers.

Farmers and ranchers who are concerned about the rise in property taxes as a result of unwise state tax policies in recent years, Kelly said.

Kelly, who has served in the Senate since 2005, decided to run when she saw some of the candidates on the Republican field and she thought Kansans deserved more options. In the Democratic field she will face Josh Svaty, former state secretary of agriculture, and Carl Brewer, former Wichita mayor, on Aug. 7.

“In the past eight years Kansas has been through rough times,” Kelly said, placing the blame on former Gov. Sam Brownback and by extension former Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who succeeded Brownback when he resigned earlier this year.

Their policies have hurt farmers and ranchers who have watched their property taxes go up in recent years.

Because revenue did not come through as expected from a cut in income taxes, it has decimated K-12 schools and higher education from community colleges, vocational technical colleges and public universities, she said. Those institutions are the “very fabric of communities.”

“Education is the No. 1 driver of economic development in the state,” she said, and critical to agriculturally based communities.

The next four years require a governor who is an experienced manager to oversee a $15.5 billion budget. “This is not a time for on-the-job training. We have no time to waste.”

She believes the Legislature is more balanced with moderate views and will help to do what most Kansans want—a pragmatic approach to solving problems. 

Highways and bridges

Because of budget woes, in recent years to balance the budget the state has “swept” money out of the Kansas Department of Transportation, Kelly said. Since 1989 the state had implemented 10-year improvement plans that were designed to upgrade urban and rural areas. She said the program was one she was proud of as a lawmaker and it was bad policy to divert funds to pay for general operations. In driving across the western Kansas she can see where needed projects have been put on hold. It will take years to get back on track, Kelly said.

Water plan

The candidate credited Brownback for his work to develop 50-year water plan designed to preserve the Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas and water quality in eastern Kansas. However, the plan will never be more than that without providing funding, she said.

“Like schools and highways, water has to be a high priority,” she said, adding she would work with legislators to develop a funding plan.

Tax policy, groceries

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Kelly wants the sales tax rate on groceries be lowered as a commitment to help low-income and elderly Kansans. She said that will not occur right away because the state needs to have its sales tax, income and property taxes in a ratio so that each represents a third of the state’s revenue stream.

“We are completely out of balance right now,” Kelly said.

Economic development

The candidate said a governor also has to let local officials determine economic development. When Tyson decided not to pursue building a poultry plant in Kansas that was an example of not handling the situation right. Tyson, with the guidance of state officials, thought Tonganoxie was a good fit but community quickly reacted strongly against the project in part because of the secrecy of it.

“This is a local control issue,” she said, adding that one sign she was encouraged was that other communities, including in Montgomery and Cloud counties, openly worked hard for the project in the aftermath. Kelly said that was an indication that a poultry plant could be welcomed again in Kansas.

Kelly, and her husband, Ted, have two grown daughters.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].