Rarely does a day go by without media featuring a purportedly learned opinion saying Kansas is but a joke.
The latest iteration is from University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis, saying Gov. Sam Brownback is delusional (May 22 Opinion). There is plenty of room for disagreement with the governor, but calling someone “delusional” is little more than political emotion masquerading as studious analysis.
People of good faith can disagree about the policy decisions that have been made in the past six years. Much of that disagreement will boil down to ardent differences in political philosophy.
It is not delusional to believe that Kansas can have lower taxes, a healthy balanced budget, and good-quality services; some states do so routinely by providing good-quality services at better prices.
As a limited-government think tank, Kansas Policy Institute believes the state was right to lower the tax burden on all citizens. Kansans know better how to spend their money than does the smartest Topeka politico. But the desire to cut taxes must be met with logical certainty of the tax cuts themselves; spending must be brought into line with revenue. Politicians in both parties have thus far refused to do so. The governor should have done more to lead in this regard.
In 2014, KPI wrote that regardless of political views on tax reform, “spending must be brought in line with revenue.” This remains as true today as it was then. It is also the basis for the credit-rating agency statements on Kansas, if anyone chooses to read beyond a headline. Moody’s Investors Service does not blame the tax cuts for the budget troubles. Instead, it acknowledges the “fundamental” issue identified in 2014.
However, spending has not been constrained. Taxes are well ahead of the 20-year inflation trend but are not growing fast enough to keep pace with record state spending that is $1.2 billion above the inflation-adjusted levels. What’s more, taxes collected by the state increased 1.5 percent last year with expectations of a 2.5 percent increase this year and 3 percent next year.
Market research studies conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of KPI found that 69 percent of Kansans believe state government operates inefficiently and 68 percent believe spending should be reduced before income or sales taxes are raised.
There is plenty with which to disagree with the governor and the Legislature. Vetoing a property tax reform bill, providing subsidies to favored industries, and delaying payments to the state pension plan come immediately to mind.
Disagreement is healthy and, by the way, the nature of our republic. But leave the condescension and disdain behind.
James Franko is the vice president and policy director of Kansas Policy Institute.