What is at Stake This Election? Letter to Kansas Voters
By Mary Fund
Over a year has passed since the Kansas Legislature—led largely by a bi-partisan group of women legislators working across the aisle in true collaborative fashion—reversed the Brownback tax cuts of 2012. Some politicians are banking on the short memories of voters to turn the clock back to that failed experiment. They cling to the idea that cutting taxes—and state programs—is the key to growing the Kansas economy.
Lest we forget, let’s remind ourselves that the big issues this election still revolve around the solvency of the state budget and state revenues. After nine rounds of budget cuts and program transfers and successive negative revenue reports during the Brownback administration, the state budget has stabilized—sort of. The 2017 tax “increases” (some prefer to call them adjustments) restored only about 2/3 of the cuts. The rest of the big issues Kansas faces follow closely behind the budget solvency with solutions for most of these problems dependent on healthier revenues: social services and health care for families, individuals, and our elders in need, education funding both for K-12 and our state’s universities to ensure quality education for all, affordable housing both urban and rural, agriculture and resource management and protection to ensure our food future, road and bridge infrastructure to support economic activity, and voter rights to assure fair and equitable representation.
Let us remember that Brownback and friends blamed the tanking of the state budget on the “rural recession” and decline in the energy industry. Some stalwart supporters of the supply side experiment maintain it was simply not given long enough to work. Others argue that we simply did not cut programs enough. But others disagree.
Economists who study this stuff now claim that cutting taxes does not boost economic growth. “Most states that dramatically cut their taxes are underperforming what you would have expected they would,” stated Dan Rickman, economist at Oklahoma State University in a Kansas News Service article. The evidence, here in Kansas and around the country, simply does not support the use of state tax cuts to spur economic growth.
Duane Goossen and the Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG) released a report last March that debunked the argument that the “rural recession” and energy industry decline were to blame for the state’s budget woes. The KCEG report says the global decline in commodities prices only accounts for a small portion of the overall economy in Kansas and wasn’t significant enough to derail budgets in neighboring states. Also, the agricultural and energy downturn happened after Kansas budgets became unstable.
Let us understand that while the decline in the agriculture and oil industry had an impact, the primary cause of the budget collapse was the tax cuts. The KCEG report showed that Kansas farm income was only 12.9% of gross state product compared to 21.1% in Iowa and 24.3% in Nebraska. Budgets in those states remained stable during the same time span as Kansas’ collapse.
Let us also remember the cuts to state services—of children literally lost by the state’s child welfare system, of citizens without health care, of cuts to our schools that meant reduction in teaching staff and opportunities, and of road construction projects delayed or cancelled, to name a few.
Let us remember the 30,000 voters purged from the state system—by use of a clumsy voter management system that did not ask enough questions to confirm identity.
Let us remember complaints from polling places of long lines and confusion and the stories from those who were turned away from the voting places.
Whoever sits in the Governor’s chair and in the State Legislature next January has a daunting task ahead of them. Rebuilding the Kansas economy and the services it provides or should provide its citizens has a long way to go. The agricultural economy is still in the tank and even though we hear blustering news of how great the national economy is doing, many of us have not felt or seen it.
As you vote, think about what direction you want to see the state budget and services go. Is thinking of what you would do with your little piece of any income tax cut really going to improve your life? Ensure your kids and grand kids’ education, health and safety? Will it repair your roads, and provide public safety and protection? Remember, tax reform is not just about taxes but what they pay for.