Alan Cobb: Population growth tied to economic freedom

01/02/2011 12:00 AM

01/02/2011 12:09 AM

Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political science professor and overall nice guy, wrote that everything is fine here in Kansas ("Observations on GOP sweep, taxes," Dec. 12 Opinion), so why would anyone want to lower taxes or change policy?

Where to start? Comparing Kansas with much of the world, we are OK. Hot water comes out of the tap, your favorite college team is on TV, and there are two dozen different road combinations to take you to Grandma's house for the holidays.

Matching Kansas with places more similar to our state than Bhutan or Belarus, there is a slightly different story.

One way to measure economic growth is population growth. People go where they find economic opportunity.

Over the past decade, Kansas' population increased 6.1 percent while Colorado's increased by 16.9 percent, Missouri's by 7 percent, Oklahoma's by 8.7 percent and Nebraska's by 6.7 percent. (Remember the "experts" who said tax and spending limits enacted in 1992 decimated Colorado?) The most sobering statistic is South Dakota's growth of 7.86 percent, an astonishing rate nearly 30 percent higher than Kansas' population growth.

Kansas has population growth because our birthrate exceeds our mortality rate. We aren't attracting folks from other states. We still have more people moving from Kansas than moving to Kansas. People moving out have a higher income than those moving in. South Dakota is a net importer of residents, and it doesn't have an income tax.

One can think about this stuff until the cows come home, or until trying Chinese math, but this is simple stuff. People move where they think they can improve their lives.

There are parts of Kansas that grew during the past decade, though I can't say with a straight face that is truly improvement. The state budget and debt grew a bunch, with some annual spending increases amounting to two or three times the rate of inflation.

Since 2000, the number of government employees in Kansas increased by 15,000 jobs while private-sector employment decreased 35,000. Today's private-sector work force in Kansas is smaller than it was in 2000. But everything is fine, really.

To make the dwindling private-sector workers feel even better, the annual salary for a state government worker in Kansas is $46,000 while the private-sector worker's is $38,500. And that doesn't include the generous health and retirement benefits rarely seen in the private sector.

Some are satisfied with the status quo. The 40,000 members of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas are not.

Then there was Loomis' lame, backhanded swipe at AFP, as if we represent only wealthy interests. I've been with AFP-Kansas since the beginning. I've been to hundreds of AFP events and meetings. I've been to Pittsburg, Liberal, Leavenworth, Goodland and many towns in between. Loomis would have been awed by the vast amounts of wealth present at the Big Cheese Pizza in Independence, the Spears Restaurant in Wichita, the Liberal train depot or the Topeka Public Library.

I am sure that among the 40,000 members of AFP in Kansas there are some rich folks. But their interests are the same as those of all AFP members: personal liberty, economic freedom and growth, and fact-based debate.

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