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Dave Helling: What’s ‘full score’ on state tax cuts?

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Gov. Sam Brownback held a news conference recently with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was in Kansas to raise money for the governor’s 2014 re-election. Brownback discussed his tax-cutting economic plan, which he said would bring lots of jobs to the state.

“This is not an experiment,” he said. “It would be great if we could get a broad base of coverage on, ‘OK, here’s the full score on this.’”

Glad to help, governor.

In December 2012, the month before the Brownback income-tax cuts took effect, the Kansas unemployment rate was 5.5 percent. This August, eight months after the tax cuts kicked in, the Kansas jobless rate had actually jumped, to 5.9 percent. Put another way: Kansas has lost more than 8,800 jobs this year.

Maybe that’s unfair. Joblessness, after all, jiggles from month to month. So let’s use another Brownback suggestion and look at the past 30 years, when Kansas was, in the governor’s words, a “high-tax state.”

As it turns out, the Kansas jobless rate was also lower three decades ago, in August 1983 — just 5.5 percent. The rate was also lower in August 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005.

Let’s be fair again. The Kansas jobless rate has improved since August 2010, and it’s lower now than when Brownback took office. In general, Kansas employment reflects national trends, the way it has for the past three decades.

But Brownback doesn’t leave himself that excuse. He specifically promises tax cuts will bring jobs, and so far there’s little evidence it’s working. In a recent survey, Wichita State University said this: “Kansas is now growing slower than the national average.”

We do know the Brownback tax cuts are costing the state money. State income-tax revenue was down almost 20 percent in September 2013, compared with September 2012. Overall, Kansas revenue has dropped 9 percent in the first three months of the fiscal year, compared with a similar period a year ago.

Brownback isn’t alarmed by any of this. The state’s budget is meeting projections. Spending is on track. Jobs and revenue were always supposed to dip before a rebound.

And had the governor sold his tax cuts as a matter of fairness, not economic development, voters might give him some slack. It’s possible Kansas taxes were too high.

But that isn’t the case Brownback makes — he cut taxes, he says, to grow jobs. In November 2014, voters will want to see the “full score” of that promise.

Dave Helling writes for the Kansas City Star.

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