Opinion Columns & Blogs

Delusion reigns as the order of day in Kansas


Is Gov. Sam Brownback delusional? Seriously.

I’ve had numerous recent conversations, with reporters, editors and various politicos that have directly addressed the question of whether Brownback is delusional in clinging to policies that (a) do not work and (b) damage the state in myriad ways.

Let’s start with one formal definition of delusional: “Maintaining fixed false beliefs, even when confronted with facts.”

One might object to labeling the governor delusional. But that discussion is already taking place, and not just in private conversations. Indeed, a Google search for “Brownback delusional” obtains almost 100,000 hits. Not quite “Trump delusional,” with its 500,000-plus links, but a lot.

The examples of arguably delusional behavior are legion (Brownback as presidential candidate?), but most revolve around the state of our economy and the impact of the 2012 tax cuts in both stimulating growth and reducing income taxes to zero.

At the start of the 2016 legislative session, the governor flatly stated: “The tax plan is working. I hope we don’t have a tax policy debate during this legislative session.” In other words, don’t even think about increasing revenues in the face of immense shortfalls.

By virtually all accounts, in January 2016, the tax plan was not working. In terms of revenues, income tax reductions had proved a huge failure. As former Republican Gov. Mike Hayden recently observed, Brownback’s myopic partisanship has driven Kansas into a “financial ditch.”

Of course, when in a ditch, the first, most rational action is to stop digging.

Notably, that’s just what Oklahoma is doing, as Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and many of her fellow partisans in the Oklahoma Legislature have addressed a fiscal crisis by embracing the federal Medicaid funding that they had previously rejected. This constitutes reality-based thinking.

Back in Kansas, however, delusion rules. We can’t adopt a privatized Medicaid scheme because it might, somewhere down the road, cost the state a few bucks. So what have we done? Raise taxes on the poor.

Only a substantial 2015 sales tax increase kept revenues from plummeting even more disastrously. Moreover, our sales tax on food has reached historic highs, often topping 9 percent in many localities, driving many Kansas shoppers to Missouri.

Brownback’s reaction? Echoing his infamous 2014 campaign line, “the sun is shining in Kansas,” he responded to recent declines in revenue estimates and actual receipts by claiming, “This is an economic problem, not a tax policy problem.” Nonsense.

Reductions to the state agencies that administer Medicaid will amount to more than $57 million, which will trigger federal reductions of $72 million. The administration claims that recipients will not lose access to care. Losing $72 million of federal funds is stupid. Asserting that $129 million in cuts won’t reduce access is simply delusional.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, declining Kansas welfare numbers are labeled a great success, while in reality various rules have likely driven many families off welfare. In Orwellian fashion, the failure to serve the poor is seen as a victory.

Sadly, for Sam Brownback and the state of Kansas, delusion reigns as the order of the day.

Burdett Loomis is a political science professor at the University of Kansas.