Gov. Sam Brownback’s Council of Economic Advisors no longer publishes its quarterly reports online, reportedly because it objects to the short-term numbers being used to gauge the overall health of the Kansas economy. The more likely motivation is to try to conceal the fact that Kansas trails the region and nation in nearly all the economic indicators.
The council is composed of Brownback, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and representatives from the financial, health care, energy, manufacturing, agriculture and services sectors of the economy. Each quarter it receives a report on the “Indicators of the Kansas Economy.”
After publishing nine consecutive reports online starting in February 2012, the council stopped posting them on its website after the March 2014 report – the same time Brownback was facing a difficult re-election campaign. The council’s executive director voiced concern that the reports were “the subject of careless scrutiny” and were being “misconstrued” to suggest Kansas was stuck in a weak economy.
But when the benchmarks were adopted in 2012, Brownback said their purpose was to “allow us to determine the state’s relative economic position as it relates to the six-state region and the nation, and to monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect.”
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The problem is that, quarter after quarter, many of those comparisons have been unfavorable – despite Brownback’s boast in 2012 that his tax policies would act “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”
The August 2015 report shows Kansas trailing the Midwest region in eight of 10 economic indicators, and trailing the nation in all 10. Here is a snapshot, as reported in the Topeka Capital-Journal:
▪ Kansas population from 2013 to 2014, up 0.3 percent; Midwest region and U.S., both up 0.7 percent.
▪ Kansas gross state product from 2013 to 2014, up 3.2 percent; region, up 3.8 percent; U.S., up 3.9 percent.
▪ Kansas personal income, 2014 to first quarter 2015, up 1.4 percent; region, up 2.2 percent; U.S., up 2.7 percent.
▪ Kansas per capita personal income, 2013 to 2014, up 2.5 percent; region, up 2.1 percent; U.S., up 3 percent.
▪ Kansas building permits, 2014 to 2015, up 14 percent; region, up 9.7 percent; U.S., up 45.3 percent.
▪ Kansas nonfarm employment, 2014 to 2015, up 0.9 percent; region, up 1.4 percent; U.S., up 2.1 percent.
▪ Kansas private-sector employment, 2014 to 2015, up 1.1 percent; region, up 1.6 percent; U.S., up 2.4 percent.
▪ Kansas manufacturing employment, 2014 to 2015, down 0.9 percent; region, down 0.1 percent; U.S., up 1.3 percent.
▪ Kansas unemployment rate, 2014 to 2015, down 4 percent; region, down 8.5 percent; U.S., down 12.7 percent.
▪ Kansas private business establishment, 2013 to 2014, up 1.3 percent; region, up 1.6 percent; U.S., up 2.1 percent.
The public can still get a copy of the report, but only by request through the Kansas Department of Commerce. The council is no longer making it easy to obtain. Based on the results, it’s no wonder.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee