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Metro-Area Kansas Politicians Say They're Watching Brownback's Tax Policy Closely

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback stuck by his aggressive tax policy during his State of the State address Thursday, outlining an ambitious list of legislative priorities for 2015.

But even members of the governor's own party say it's too early to tell what Brownback can accomplish during the session.

"The State of the State is always the very beginning of the legislative process," said Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Republican from Overland Park, during an appearance on KCUR's Up to Date. "We are in for a long road. These are proposals. This is where we begin."

On everyone's minds: what to do about a steadily growing deficit. 

Republican Rep. John Rubin, who represents Shawnee, said he believes Brownback's tax cuts need to be given time to work.

"The governor's march to zero on the state income tax and his overall fiscal and economic policy can neither be branded a success, nor a failure. I think the grade right now is incomplete," Rubin said.

But House Minority Leader Tom Borroughs of Kansas City, Kan., argued Kansas' current budget troubles were predicted and avoidable.

"Early on, when we talked about the governor's tax plan, it was talked about that we would be in this position, where we are today, and it was ignored," he said.

Clayton said her Johnson County district includes a number of retirees, including government workers who are concerned about how the Brownback cuts will impact their pensions.

She said uncertainty surrounding the solvency of KPERS, the Kansas state retirement system, has made it harder to recruit younger workers.

"One thing that we've noticed is our millennials are already facing a squeeze," said Clayton. "It's already difficult for us to recruit very quality public employees. If we're not offering them good benefits, we're not going to get quality benefits."

Clayton also criticized the governor's proposal to move toward a consumption tax, or flat tax, as harmful to retirees and low-income families.

But Rubin, a supporter of the flax tax, fired back that most of those families could receive a "prebate" to refund their money.

Brownback also floated a plan during his State of the State address to change how Supreme Court justices are elected. 

The governor would rather have elected judges or be allowed to select his own nominee for the Kansas Senate to confirm. But that plan is already drawing opposition from the Democrats, who say Brownback is angry with the current high court over the state's education funding formula.

"The governor now has control of the legislature, the executive branch. The third branch of government is the judiciary," said Burroughs. "It should remain impartial. It should remain non-political. It's the last opportunity for the public has to protect themselves from government."

Clayton, meanwhile, doesn't think Brownback has the votes he needs in the Kansas House to change the nomination process, so it's probably a moot point.

"I can only assume when he proposed this in his speech last night, he was only doing it to satisfy a certain amount of people but knowing this is not something that will pass," said Clayton.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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