TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback promised Wednesday to finish work on a 50-year water conservation plan for Kansas if he's re-elected, and said Democratic challenger Paul Davis' lack of interest in water policy issues leaves him with no credibility on the subject.
Brownback had a news conference Wednesday on a boat ramp on the Kansas River in Topeka to outline his plan for dealing with the state's natural resources, the final piece of his campaign platform. He said afterward that he's open to proposals for phasing out a state renewable energy requirement for utilities, so long as it's negotiated by wind industry officials, critics of the rule and other interested parties.
But the governor's main focus Wednesday was water policy. His administration is drafting a conservation plan and expects to roll out pieces of it next year, and the governor successfully pushed for a major overhaul of water-use laws in 2012 that ended the state's previous "use it or lose it" policy on water rights for farmers and other users.
He said water conservation is vital to the state's future and said even if Kansas has knowledgeable officials to oversee water policy, it counts for relatively little if the governor isn't interested. He said Davis, the Kansas House minority leader, has shown little interest in such issues in his 11 years as a legislator.
"I have credibility to work on this topic, and my opponent does not," Brownback said.
The Kansas Democratic Party's current platform embraces a 50-year water conservation plan and says depletion of aquifers and reservoirs "are critical problems." But Davis has said little about such issues, focusing on education funding and criticizing personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback's urging as he woos disaffected GOP moderates.
But Davis spokesman Chris Pumpelly said the Democrat has met privately with farmers, water-rights attorneys and others to discuss water issues. Also, Pumpelly said, funding for water projects is jeopardized by the tax cuts, which have dropped the state's top personal income tax rate by 26 percent and exempted the owners of 191,000 businesses from personal income taxes.
"The person who lacks credibility on this issue is Governor Brownback," Pumpelly said.
Meanwhile, Brownback has seen a push by conservative Republicans to repeal the state's renewable energy rule for utilities. The 2009 state law requires utilities to have wind and other renewable sources account for 15 percent of their peak capacity for generating electricity by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.
The governor caused a stir among supporters and critics of the law in July by saying that interested parties should negotiate a compromise on phasing out the rule — which prompted his office to say hours later that he wasn't proposing a repeal. He said Wednesday that he's supported the rule as a way to help nurture wind energy, but now the industry is strong.
"If there's a way over time to work that off or to change that, I'm willing to look at that," he said. "These are methods and techniques to try to get an industry up and going, and they shouldn't remain forever."
Pumpelly said Davis supports keeping the renewable energy rule because, "This policy is critical to growing the wind industry in Kansas to its fullest potential."
Brownback re-election campaign: http://www.brownback.com
Davis campaign: http://www.davisforkansas.com/
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