Recent weeks have seen an increased level of vitriol from some Kansas editorialists about the commonsense reforms made by Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican Legislature to get our state moving again. Such reactions are predictable whenever real change comes to an outdated system.
The left said similar things about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. These Kansas editorials are just as wrong as Thatcher’s critics.
Here are some publicly available facts, submitted for open review:• In the decade before Brownback took office, Kansas lost private-sector jobs. That is to say, fewer people were working in the private sector in Kansas in January 2011 than had been in January 2001. Meanwhile, the public sector grew significantly.
• In 2009 and 2010, Kansans saw their real household incomes drop, while throughout the decade government spending grew much faster than inflation and taxes were repeatedly raised.
• Despite these tax increases, Brownback faced a $500 million shortfall in his first fiscal year as governor.
• On July 1, 2010, Kansas state government reported precisely $876.05 cash on hand – the lowest total to start a fiscal year in 150 years of state history.
• Kansas was bleeding jobs and residents to every surrounding state except Nebraska – the only one of our neighbors to have a higher personal income-tax rate at the time. And on top of all that, Kansas had the second-most-underfunded public-pension system in the country.
These are the facts. This is the unsustainable status quo these editorials defend so vituperatively.
Just more than two years into the Brownback administration, here is the record:
• The Kansas unemployment rate has dropped from 7 to 5.5 percent, one of the lowest rates in the country.
• A $500 million projected shortfall was transformed into a more than $500 million cash balance for the state general fund in 18 months.
• Kansas has gone from the second-highest income-tax rate in our region to the second-lowest.
• In 2012, Kansas had the largest number of new small-business filings in state history – more than 15,000.
• In 2013, the Kauffman Foundation rated Kansas an A for its small-business climate. Missouri rated a C.
• Meanwhile, when all costs such as pensions, special education and buildings are accounted for, Kansas has increased its spending on K-12 education every year of the Brownback administration. State government is no longer walking away from its obligations to state pensions, as it had so often in previous decades.
And the fiscal proposals the governor has put before the Legislature in its upcoming wrap-up session will build on this progress – growing the economy, preserving hard-won responsible ending balances, and protecting core government services such as education, public safety and social services for our most vulnerable Kansans. A growing economy will make it possible to fulfill these obligations in a way the stagnant, outdated approach of the past decade did not.
As Brownback said in his recent GOP weekly address, states compete every day for people and businesses. Thanks to the work of the governor and the Legislature, the status quo is over in Kansas and our great state is back in the game.