Kan. Chamber expands agenda on energy, education

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 14, 2014 at 8:59 pm •  Published: January 14, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has expanded its 2014 legislative agenda to support repealing the state's renewable energy standard for utilities and to become involved in education issues, its executives said Tuesday.

Chamber leaders said businesses' concerns about energy costs are prompting it to enter the debate over a state law requiring utilities to see that renewable resources, such as wind power, account for 20 percent of their capacity to generate electricity by 2020.

President and CEO Mike O'Neal, a former Kansas House speaker, said the chamber will jump into education issues because businesses hire public school graduates. Also, he said, the chamber wants to protect massive income tax cuts enacted at the urging of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

O'Neal said its goal is to make Kansas as business-friendly as possible, and the chamber can't avoid energy or education issues. The chamber has been influential on tax, government spending, immigration and regulatory issues.

"We want this to be the best environment, whether that's good tax policy or whatever, and we want it to have a good education system, but we want it to be efficient, and we want to be focused on getting those kids college and career ready," O'Neal said during an interview.

Republicans hold large majorities in both legislative chambers. But O'Neal said that with educators and Democratic lawmakers suggesting that the tax cuts will starve schools of state funds, "That's a clear invitation to the table that we can't ignore."

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who's running for governor, said he hopes the chamber will work to restore funds to public schools.

"The Kansas business-owners I know believe strong public schools are the foundation of a strong Kansas economy," said Davis, a critic of the tax cuts.

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