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Government

Brownback Unveils Priorities For 2014 Kansas Legislative Session

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Gov. Sam Brownback made comments aimed at the courts, referenced Kansas history and touted his administration's accomplishments during the annual State of the State address Wednesday night.

Brownback unveiled some of his legislative priorities as he spoke before the members of the Kansas House and Senate. He held up what he says are the achievements of his administration over the last three years: building up state financial reserves and balancing the budget during the recession.

"In consultation with some of the best minds in America, we developed an action plan. We streamlined regulations, reformed workers' compensation and went from the second-highest tax burden in our region to the second lowest, cutting our taxes so that we could grow," said Brownback.

The governor also promoted his plan to institute all-day kindergarten statewide in Kansas public schools.

"It will benefit Kansas school kids, and again, thanks to the growing economy and the work of this Legislature, it is affordable," he said. "For the first time we can ensure that every Kansas child has access to all-day kindergarten and we should do it now."

Last year, the Legislature passed a budget that cut universities by nearly $50 million over two years. Brownback called higher education "critical," but didn't specifically say he would push to reverse the cuts.

"In my budget proposal I'll continue to support our universities, community and technical colleges, and I'm confident they will produce the next generation of Kansas leaders," said Brownback.

Brownback said he'll include money in his budget to help reduce housing shortages and a need for doctors in rural areas. His speech was peppered with references to Kansas history and a higher power.

"Our dependence is not on big government, but it's on a big God, who loves us and lives within us," said Brownback.

Brownback also hinted at a school funding lawsuit being considered by the Kansas Supreme Court. He said too many decisions are made by "unaccountable, opaque institutions." He said it's the job of the Legislature to decide school funding.

"This is the peoples' business, done by the peoples' House, through this wonderfully untidy but open to all to see business of appropriations," the governor said. "Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else."

Kansas Supreme Court justices, seated just feet from Brownback, did not react to his comments.

Just as Brownback touted the work he's done, his challenger took issue with many of the governor's policies. State Rep. Paul Davis from Lawrence, gave the Democratic response to the State of the State. He will likely be Brownback's opponent in the upcoming election. Davis spoke from an elementary school in Lawrence.

"Governor Brownback and his roadmap for Kansas are leading our state in the wrong direction," said Davis. "Our schools are suffering, jobs remain scarce and property taxes are skyrocketing. Meanwhile, big, politically connected corporations seem to get all the breaks."

Davis contends the tax cuts passed in recent years haven't spurred the economic growth promised.

"I've never heard from business owners who believe that a plan that raises taxes on middle-class families will actually help our economy. I've never heard the business community ask the governor to make the largest cut to public schools in state history, resulting in a less-educated workforce," said Davis.

Davis also tried to send a message to Kansans of all political stripes.

"We need to go in a different direction. Education, hard work, strong middle-class, cooperation," said Davis. "These values are what make us Kansans. And if we work together, Republicans, Democrats, independents, we can restore the state we love."

Gov. Sam Brownback's office will release more specific details of his budget proposal Thursday.

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