In visit to city, governor talks on range of issues
School funding, although a top priority for Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, isn't the only issue on the governor's plate.
In an interview last week with members of The Current news staff, the governor reviewed some of her recent initiatives, talked about some new ideas she's forwarded to the Legislature for consideration and discussed some old topics she continues to hope to see action on from lawmakers.
The governor said health-care costs and affordability was an issue "I hear about all over the state."
In November, she unveiled a $50 million initiative aimed at extending health care benefits to more than 70,000 uninsured Kansans.
"Small-business owners are worried that they're not going to have affordable coverage. Seniors are scared to death that they can't afford their medicines," she said Friday. "We have a pretty aggressive multipart plan at the state level that I'm hoping the Legislature embraces and that we can both start to work on both the cost side and the affordability side for Kansans."
Late last year, Kansas became the fourth state to join the program developed by Illinois and launched in October. The I-SaveRX program provides Kansans access to lower-priced prescription drugs through a network of inspected and approved pharmacies and wholesalers in Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Kansas joining the program is a source of pride for Sebelius, who said a couple thousand Kansans already have signed up for the program. She told the story of a recent visitor to her office: a 75-year-old who takes three maintenance drugs
"He had priced the drugs at Wal-Mart, at Walgreen's and Dillons, and then did the pricing on I-SaveRX on the Internet," Sebelius recalled. "The lowest price he could get out of the local stores was $1,300 a month for the three drugs. He could get the three of them for $700 on the 'Net, so he quickly took advantage of that. It's a very significant savings for a lot of people."
The governor noted more information about the program is available on her Web site, www.ksgovernor.org.
Kansas Highway 7
A consultant is recommending Kansas Highway 7 be rebuilt as a limited access freeway from Lansing to Olathe. Currently, the Kansas Department of Transportation has no funds allocated toward construction or renovation of the highway, one of the busiest north-south roads in Kansas.
Sebelius was asked what the chances were of getting the highway moved up on the state's to-do list.
She said she and the 2004 Legislature restored the 10-year comprehensive highway plan approved in 1999.
"I just think it's important that citizens here working with your community leaders keep in close touch with KDOT and the highway department and make sure that the needs of this community are well known," she said, "but, the (comprehensive highway) plan is back on track, and I think that's optimistic because for a while it wasn't clear that anything was going to happen into the future."
She said lawmakers shouldn't have to pick between good roads or good schools.
"I think it's important to people who want Highway 7 fixed and also want good schools to let legislators know that it's not an either-or situation. You really need both in order for this community to prosper. Having the infrastructure in place doesn't do a great job unless you have a great school, but having a great school if you can't get people down the highway also doesn't do much."
Sebelius said she was close to asking the Legislature to review an agreement her office negotiated last year with the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes that would allow the tribes to open a $210 million hotel-and-casino complex near the Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County. The state would receive a share of the revenue - perhaps $50 million or more a year - in exchange for limiting competition for the new operation.
"The compact is still very much viable and eventually we'll take it back to the committee," she said.
She called gambling revenues a kind of "voluntary taxation" that could become more attractive to lawmakers.
"It's very easy to see our dollars going to the state of Missouri by just going past the parking lots of the riverboat casinos and looking at the license tags in the parking lots and seeing just how many Kansas tags there are," she said. "I'd like to keep some of that revenue on the Kansas side and also have a destination resort or two that really could bring conventions and tourists and families for activities other than just the gaming activities. I think that it could be a win-win situation."