Gov. Sam Brownback wrote in a commentary in Wednesday’s Eagle that, “without question,” his tax policies are resulting in economic growth in Kansas. Actually, there are a lot of questions and concerns – and not just by “the left.”
Though Kansas’ economy has grown, it has lagged the nation and the region. In fact, a new federal Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that Kansas’ seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs grew only 1.1 percent from March 2014 through March 2015 – the 39th-worst jobs growth rate in the nation.
Though Brownback trumpeted February’s job growth, which was an impressive increase of 8,400 jobs, that appears to be an aberration. Total seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment fell by 2,400 in March, according to the Kansas Labor Information Center. And for the first three months of this year, Kansas added only 1,900 nonfarm jobs.
In other words, most of the states in the region and nation are adding jobs faster than Kansas without having drastically cut their income taxes.
And remember, Brownback boasted in 2012 that his pro-growth tax policies would act like “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” His economic consultant, Arthur Laffer, also promised that cutting income taxes would have a “near immediate impact.”
What’s taking so long? If the economy is growing so well, why does the state have to keep lowering its tax revenue projections?
Brownback also suggested in his commentary that “loud voices on the left” are the ones concerned about the state’s economy and the fairness of his tax plan. But a growing number of conservative state lawmakers are publicly acknowledging that the tax cuts have not turned out as planned and need fixing.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the tax policy has created an inequitable tax system, in which one person pays state income taxes while another person in the same profession pays no income taxes.
“It’s unfair tax treatment,” she said.
The biggest problem with Brownback’s tax cuts is the huge hole they created in the state budget. The budget shortfall for next fiscal year is about $800 million. And that’s just to get to zero. Counting the statutorily required ending balance, the shortfall is more than $1.2 billion.
Lawmakers are mostly filling that hole by raiding the state’s transportation fund and reducing promised funding to the state’s pension plan. But they are still short and are now considering a variety of tax increases.
During his re-election campaign, Brownback told Kansans that job growth would prevent this budget shortfall.
“The sun is shining in Kansas, and don’t let anybody tell you any different,” he said in one campaign commercial.
His commentary offered more blue-sky promises.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee