Opinion Columns & Blogs

Mark Peterson: Truth cannot be bent to fit belief


In mid-June, our Republican Legislature ended its taxes-versus-spending stalemate. The members did so with first-rate melodrama and the shedding of remorseful tears – some real and some crocodile.

Since then various explanations have been provided by legislators and the administration. All share a common thread: The 2012 tax cuts were wise policy, the cuts were powerful economic medicine for Kansans, and everyone is dismayed by the failure of the Kansas economy to respond to these big moves with a burst of energy and expansion.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, provided an example. In two essays published on his website, Knox opined on the difficulties the Legislature and the state were in by the end of the legislative session.

In “Ebb and Flow,” he explained that in 2012 the recovery began to happen in Kansas and the “Kansas government” wisely chose to boldly reduce taxes rather than follow what he called the “natural, continual growth of government,” thereby accomplishing the state’s largest ever tax cut.

In “The Art of Compromise,” Knox expanded his view on the forces that cause this “natural, continual growth of government” against which he and his allies struggled. On the side of virtue were those “many Kansans” burdened by government too large, too bloated and too burdensome. For these, he would fight. And the opponents? They were advocates who had succeeded in substituting government to replace traditional charity functions to aid those in need. Also, there were the public employees extorting job security from the senator’s overburdened taxpaying constituents.

Melodrama indeed.

Early in August, an account of the fiscal stalemate’s resolution came from New York Times Magazine correspondent Chris Suellentrop, a nephew of Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, vice chairman of the House Taxation Committee. With the connection of name and Uncle Gene’s position, the journalist was able to obtain a startling picture of the deep faith many in the ruling party have in the virtue of their cause, the rightness of their decisions and the moral error of their opposition.

The most astonishing things that come from this account are the general dismay at the failure of the Kansas economy to respond powerfully to the 2012 tax cuts, and the continuing deep belief that the budget is filled with waste and inefficiency perpetrated by those whom Knox accuses of subsidizing their dependencies and life-tenured employments.

Regarding the first point, Gov. Sam Brownback and his most loyal legislative supporters have been clear. It is President Obama’s fault that Kansas’ economic renaissance is stymied. When his policy miscues are overturned, the income tax cuts and those to follow in the statutorily mandated “race to zero” will bring an economic resurgence.

The second point is even more fanciful. Waste in government is a soul-truth for Kansas Republican leaders. Yet as nephew Suellentrop wrote: “If they could have cut spending more deeply without doing immeasurable harm to schools, to prisons, to mental hospitals, to roads, they would have done so. Over and over, they told me they didn’t run for office to raise taxes. Then they did exactly that.”

So Kansas, this is the insanity that frustrates the electoral minority. The truth cannot be bent to fit the belief.

Mark Peterson teaches political science at Washburn University.