Opinion Columns & Blogs

Mike O'Neal: Status quo in Kansas was not working


Kansas has a lot of things going for it. We have a great network of infrastructure. Our well-funded schools were recently ranked fifth best in the nation. Kansans possess a strong work ethic.

But the state struggled to grow, ranking 10th worst in the country for out-migration from 2000 to 2009, losing more than 15,600 taxpayers and 17,600 dependents during that time. Meanwhile, the fastest-growing industry in the state from 2001 to 2012 was government.

This path was unsustainable. The status quo in Kansas wasn’t working.

Gov. Sam Brownback made economic growth his top priority. In 2012, he and the Legislature passed the largest tax cuts in the history of the state. All Kansans saw a reduction in their state income tax rates, and taxes on pass-through income was eliminated for businesses.

The Wichita Business Journal recently highlighted one manufacturing company that credits these tax cuts for its investment of more than $4 million the past two years, with another $4 million to be spent in 2014 and 2015. Its staff has doubled in size in the past five years. That investment produces significant tax revenue for the state, and there are many others who have similar stories.

The naysayers claim the sky is falling, that education has been slashed, that our state will go bankrupt. These naysayers are the ones who were in power during the lost decade, when Kansas had fewer private-sector jobs in 2011 than it did in 2001. They are the ones who believe government knows how to spend Kansas taxpayers’ money better than Kansas taxpayers do. They are the ones who support the status quo.

The status quo will bankrupt the state. We will eventually run out of enough revenue producers to support the unsustainable growth of government spending Kansas has experienced.

Brownback’s strategy is the same approach taken by President Reagan in the 1980s. It’s the same approach that President Kennedy took when he said: “In short, it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low. And the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.”

In the short time the tax cuts have been in place, Kansas, which has historically lagged behind, is now vigorously competing with and in many cases outperforming its peer states.

Brownback has shown great leadership the past four years, fulfilling his promise to make growth of the Kansas economy his top priority. Now it’s time for Kansans to acknowledge the successes of the first four years and re-elect Brownback so he can continue to make Kansas the best place to live and work.

Mike O’Neal is president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.