House Democratic Leader Rep. Jim Ward delivered the Democratic response to the Governor's annual State of the State address. Read the full speech below:
House Democratic Leader, Rep. Jim Ward – State of the State Address Response
"Good evening my fellow Kansans and happy New Year. I am Jim Ward, the Democratic Leader of the Kansas House of Representatives.
2017 was a good year for Kansas. We began last January with 13 new Democrats in the House and several new moderate Republicans. Together we were able to build a strong bipartisan coalition to repeal most of the Brownback tax experiment – and when Brownback vetoed that tax reform, we were able to override his veto.
This one event opened the door to taking Kansas in a new and better direction. We invested $293 million of new money into Kansas public schools and increased funding to the state’s mental health safety net. Teachers received a pay raise for the first time in seven years and state employees a raise for the first time since 2008. We restored the childcare credit and the home mortgage deduction. We created stronger oversight to what has become a troubled foster care system and we kept firearms out of hospitals.
In the months since that tax reform passed, Kansas has seen consistently higher-than-estimated tax revenues -- and the State’s credit rating (downgraded three times under Brownback’s tenure) was immediately upgraded following the veto override.
This was only possible because a bipartisan coalition said enough is enough and end the fiscal insanity. We restored tax fairness to the Kansas income tax code. We made significant progress in returning fiscal responsibility to our state. We must continue to build an economy that works for all Kansans and not just the wealthy corporations.
2018 presents us with another year of incredible opportunity to continue the work we’ve begun. We know Kansas works best when we work together. But the progress we made last year is at risk. There is a danger of the legislature falling back into the traditional partisanship that originally got us into this mess. I am looking forward to maintaining and building upon on our successful bipartisan coalition to address the challenges facing Kansas. I am ready to partner with anyone willing to join us in forging common-sense solutions and reject the too-frequent position of those who insist it is their way or the highway. They are holding our state back.
The most important issue facing Kansas this year is funding our schools fairly and sufficiently. Our future as a great state depends on getting the education of our children done right. Each and every child in Kansas deserves a chance to pursue their God given talents regardless of where they live. We need to ensure teachers have the tools they need to teach. The Kansas Supreme Court spoke in October, saying that not enough is being done for our children’s schools under the Constitution. It has given the Legislature an April 30th deadline to submit a new funding plan and they will rule on that plan before June 30th. We should get to work on this immediately.
Strengthening the Kansas economy, maintaining fiscal responsibility and working to create more good jobs is the ultimate challenge we must meet.
Every Kansan should be able to afford to see a doctor when they are sick. It’s the right thing to do and it will be the most important economic development tool this legislature can pass. Expanding Medicaid is part of the answer and we must do it this year.
We must invest in job training, providing Kansans with the chance to learn marketable skills and put those skills to use in a competitive and diverse workforce. We must stop taking money needed for better highways and bridge repairs. We should begin prison reforms to stop the riots and we should pay our correctional officers a wage to reflect the importance of their work.
We must return Kansas to an open and transparent government where its people can oversee the work of their representatives.
We must do more than talk about zero tolerance to sexual harassment we must act. Mandatory sexual harassment prevention training and independent investigations are the first steps.
To be able to do these things and more we need strong leadership. Democrats in the House and the Senate will go to work every day of this session focused on the needs of Kansans and willing to work with anyone committed to solving the problems facing our state. In the end good policies and good results for Kansas is why we serve.
2018 is the year that we move past Brownback and his failed experiments, continue to restore and move forward a strong and successful Kansas. This will only happen if we work together.
Thank you, and good night."