The last two years in Topeka have been tumultuous at times, but I am pleased to report that after the long hours of debate and the difficulties we faced, Kansas is in better shape than it was before, and I am optimistic about the road forward.  The key factor in remaining hopeful is that we hold firm this fall in supporting conservative candidates at the ballot box.
The state's budget funds the state for the rest of FY 2016 and FY 2017.  Even though the news media is casting an extremely negative view on the state's finances, the state brought in $124 million more in revenues this year than last, and the Legislature reduced expenditures by over $50 million.  Public safety and caring for the state's most vulnerable citizens continue to be the top priority as core services of government.
It is noteworthy that we finished this session in just 71 days, the shortest legislative session since 1974.  While the 2015 session was long due to the debate over budget and taxes, this year proved we can get our work done quickly and efficiently, saving the taxpayer over $1 million in the process.

The legislative process can be very frustrating, when 165 legislators and one governor each have different ideas on how to craft solutions for the challenges facing our state.  With the added pressure of distortions from the news media and special interest groups, some of whom wield much influence, it is often a wonder how anything is accomplished in Topeka - yet an honest view of the past few years would demonstrate a great deal of success, even if much work remains.
Here are a few items from the veto session:

1. We are keeping taxes low, rather than increasing the burden on entrepreneurs and families. The House did not adopt the proposal to increase taxes on small businesses. This is good news - while the temptation to find revenue sources is great in government, the way to economic growth is having a stable tax policy, further lowering income taxes for all people, with the ultimate goal of eliminating income tax in Kansas. Remember, our goal is to get to zero for everyone!

2. We are balancing the budget through spending reductions by passing a final budget that provides an estimated $27.3 million ending balance in the current fiscal year and $69.8 million in FY 2017. It relies on reductions to general government spending and does not increase taxes on Kansans.

3. The budget prohibits funding cuts to K-12 education, continuing the pledge to keep education funding stable through the passage of the block grant program in 2015. The block grants have been a huge funding relief for Johnson County schools.

4. In addition to cutting government spending, the budget provides $17 million for Osawatomie and Larned state hospitals. It will be used for screening and other mental health services, in addition to increases in pay for nurses and social workers.

5. We are making slow progress on making Kansas government more efficient while protecting essential services and previous contracts, KPERS being one of those contracts. There will be a payment of $100 million over the employer contribution plan to KPERS. This did not occur under other governors, including Governors Sebelius and Parkinson, which caused the state to fall way behind in its obligations. It is only under Governor Brownback that the state has stepped up to and funded this commitment. The budget does authorize the state to temporarily delay some extra contributions to KPERS, but the KPERS trust fund will continue to receive near record funding this year. This will have no impact on current retirees drawing from KPERS.

The bill passed the House 63-59 and the Senate 22-18. The bill will now be sent to the governor for final approval. I voted yes.

6. We are promoting efficiency by revising our budget process. Before the legislative session of 2017, agencies would be required to identify programs by function, purpose, priority, and history. The importance of state programs and their effects on the state budget would be highlighted and there should be a reduction in areas where there is duplication of efforts. The bill also would establish the Budget Stabilization Fund, which could only be expended with legislative approval.

Conference Committee Reports

Several conference committee reports included initiatives that passed in previous bills:
  • Prohibit state funds from going to Planned Parenthood, reprioritizing that funding to health clinics that do not provide abortion.  
  • Strengthened the property tax lid, moving the effective date up to January 1, 2017.  You will have a vote whenever local government desires to increase property taxes.
  • Adopted Constitutional Carry and the 2nd Amendment Protection Act, further making Kansas a leader in this critical area.

  • Passed a comprehensive overhaul of the juvenile justice system which prioritizes the needs of troubled youth and allows them to rehabilitate through safer and reliable alternatives.  Special kudos to Senator Greg Smith for his hard work on this legislation. 
  • I spearheaded domestic violence legislation to ensure judges in Kansas use the Batterer Intervention Program so batterers could receive help while their families gain some relief.  It did not create a need for additional funding. 
  • Kansas was the only state in the country that prohibited step therapy in Medicaid, which is a process that ensures patients are getting the most cost-effective drugs for their particular condition.  It would only apply to new patients and would not disrupt any current treatments.  This should save the state $10.5 million, with plenty of oversight to guarantee the right patients are getting the right medications.

  • Additional welfare reform makes sure benefit cards stay with the intended user and penalizes recipients if they refuse to comply with fraud investigations.  The legislation also cross checks lottery winners so they cannot receive benefits if they won more than $5,000 in cash.  Over the last few years, Kansas has reduced the number of people on welfare by 70%!  Able-bodied adults saw their income increase 127% within one year of getting off food stamps.
  • Charitable health care incentives is another initiative I spearheaded through the Legislature. It allows eligible health care providers and dentists to earn one continuing education credit for every two hours worked when giving charitable health care. This legislation has the potential of offering 31,830 free visits for low income patients and providing $18 million worth of donated care.  It is a free market approach to expanding health care access, and could be especially helpful in rural districts. It encourages medical and dental providers to give back to their communities while it helps them meet their professional requirements. It is a win-win solution for everyone.

Franklin Graham Rally

Franklin Graham, the President of Samaritan's Purse and son of famous pastor Billy Graham, visited Topeka on his 19th stop for the Decision America Tour.  A rally was held on the Capitol grounds with over 4,300 people in attendance. With our country facing grave threats from abroad, economic uncertainty, and attacks on religious freedom, Rev. Graham urged all Christians to play a greater role in government and to pray for our nation. Franklin Graham will be traveling to all 50 states this year on his tour.
For more information visit:
Below is a shot from the rally:

In Conclusion
As we head into the fall, those who want to undo these conservative reforms - including the media - will barrage you daily with misleading and false reports in an attempt to wrestle control at the ballot box in August and November.   It's our job to make sure people have the facts so we can continue to make positive steps for Kansas.

In honor of your liberty,

Mary Pilcher-Cook

Mary Pilcher Cook

Working in honor of your liberty.
Contact me today!

State Senator Mary Pilcher Cook | Sheila Wodtke, Treasurer | Shawnee | KS | 66216