New Schmidt campaign ad claims Kelly cut police funding. But what do the numbers say?

A new political ad from Republican nominee Derek Schmidt claims Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly cut funding to police but public safety funding has increased since she took office.

The ad invokes images of racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 and seeks to frame Kelly as anti-law enforcement.

“When defund the police radicals rioted, liberal Laura Kelly joined their crusade,” claims the ad, which was paid for by Schmidt’s campaign.

Schmidt, the state’s attorney general since 2011, leaned heavily into GOP messaging on crime during Wednesday’s debate with Kelly in Overland Park.

The ad, which was launched the following day, says Kelly called police racist, in reference to an op-ed she published in the Topeka Capital Journal in which Kelly said “systemic racism in law enforcement must end.” The ad also says Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice pushed for “anti-policing laws.”

“Then Laura Kelly cut police funding, and undermined morale even more,” the ad says.

In fact, Kansas’ spending on public safety through its general fund has increased under Kelly by more than $100 million.

When Kelly took office in the 2019 fiscal year, the state general fund allocated $411.2 million to public safety. It stands at $553.2 million in the 2023 fiscal year, which began in July.

Kelly had proposed $569.5 million for public safety, but the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a budget that spent more than $10 million less than Kelly’s proposal.

Gov. Laura Kelly, shown, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt square off in a final gubernatorial debate before November’s election Wednesday, October 5, 2022, at the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park.
Gov. Laura Kelly, shown, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt square off in a final gubernatorial debate before November’s election Wednesday, October 5, 2022, at the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park.

Kelly signed a Republican-approved budget for the 2021 fiscal year that reduced public safety funding by $20 million, but that reduction was made up for through more than $100 million in increases by the current fiscal year.

C.J. Grover, Schmidt’s campaign manager, pointed to two budget decisions that he said amounted to a cut in funding by Kelly — her elimination of the Safe and Secure Schools grant program in 2020 and a 2021 veto on a raise for Capitol Police officers.

Kelly did eliminate the Safe and Secure Schools grant program but the program did not fund law enforcement at the time. According to the Kansas Department of Education, the grants could only be used for school infrastructure and technology improvements when they were initially in effect during the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

When lawmakers reinstated the program this year following a shooting at Olathe East High School, they amended the rules and allowed schools to use the grants to fund school resource officers. Kelly signed the budget that included the change.

Kelly’s veto of the Capitol Police pay raise did not reduce police funding. Ultimately, the Legislature and Kelly approved a 5% pay raise for all state employees, including officers, this year.

In a statement Grover, Schmidt’s campaign manager, said the Safe and Secure schools grant would have provided equipment for school resource officers.

“Never in her four years has the governor included continuation of that funding in her budget even after it was added by the Legislature in previous years. That is a cut to police funding, and is wrong for Kansas,” Grover said.

Kelly’s campaign spokeswoman, Lauren Fitzgerald, said in a statement that Kelly had always supported law enforcement and would continue to.

“These false smears won’t work because Kansans know Governor Kelly has worked with both parties to deliver historic investments in law enforcement, including officers having better pay, better equipment, and better family benefits,” Fitzgerald said.

The ad uses talking points Republicans adopted in 2020 and have continued using during the midterms. They’ve sought to tie Democratic politicians to activist calls to defund the police and have argued Democrats would harm public safety.

In 2020, Republican congressional candidate Jake LaTurner defeated Democrat Michelle De La Isla after falsely insisting she had defunded police as the mayor of Topeka.

Schmidt’s ad presented the Republican as a contrast to Kelly, referencing endorsements from the Fraternal order of Police and Kansas State Troopers Association.

“Derek Schmidt backs the blue. Derek Schmidt will keep Kansas families safe,” it said.