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Brownback Outlines Past Accomplishments And Plans For 2014 In State Of The State Address

(AP Photo/The Topeka Capital Journal, Chris NeaL)

Governor Sam Brownback took aim at Kansas courts, referenced state history and touted his administration's accomplishments during the annual State of the State address on Wednesday night.

Brownback also unveiled some of his legislative priorities as he spoke before members of the legislature.

The Governor 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," Brownback said. "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."

The governor 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," Brownback 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. Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else," said Brownback.

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 Representative 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," Davis said. "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," Davis said.

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

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

Governor Sam Brownback's office will release more specific details of his budget proposal later today.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.