Recently it has become fashionable for newspapers to carry editorials bemoaning the current state of affairs in Kansas, contrasting the current regime to a tradition of moderation in Kansas governance. In particular, Governor Sam Brownback is singled out for criticism.
Examples of such columns are Kansas 1861-2013 in the Hutchinson News, Kansas slipping away from its people in the Topeka Capital-Journal, and Which Kansas is that? in the Wichita Eagle.
The common thread in these articles is willing ignorance of the facts. I say willing ignorance because these writers ought to know facts. If they don’t know facts about the Kansas economy and schools, we have to wonder why they are writing editorials that will be read by thousands of Kansans?
Here’s a brief rundown of the state of Kansas:
Kansas population has been growing at a slower rate than the country. A chart is here.
Kansas has been growing jobs at a slower rate than many other states. Here’s a link to an interactive visualization of job growth in the states. You can compare Kansas to any other state or combination of states. Should we be satisfied with the performance of Kansas compared to other states over the past few decades? No, we shouldn’t be satisfied with our record during the period that these editorialists write about.
Kansas has been growing its private-sector gross domestic product at a rate slower than most states. An interactive visualization is here.
Kansas has lost ground in interstate migrants. Many more people leave Kansas for other states than move to Kansas, as can be seen here. In the 2012 United Van Lines migration study, Kansas is seen as “balanced.” But Atlas has more outbound shipments than inbound.
While Kansas newspaper editorial writers like to boast of outstanding public schools, a proper examination of NAEP scores finds that Kansas can’t do better than Texas, a state that we often compare with ourselves in a negative way. Comparing Kansas to national averages, Kansas performs well compared to other states in math and reading in grades four and eight, scoring better than the national average in all these cases. But if we look at the data separated by racial/ethnic subgroups, something different becomes apparent: Kansas lags behind the national average in some of these areas. A table of these figures is here.
Regarding Texas again: Editorial writers say that because Texas has no income tax, its property and sales taxes are higher. Perhaps. But overall, Texas collects less taxes from its citizens. In 2011 Kansas state government collected $2,378 in taxes for each person. Texas collected $1,682. Texas may have higher sales or property taxes than Kansas, but the total tax burden in Texas is lower.
Spending follows the same pattern. In 2011 Kansas state government spent $5,115 per person in total, with $1,974 in general fund spending and $130 in bond spending. For Texas the total was $3,718 spent per person in total, with $1,654 in general fund spending and $50 in bond spending. The lower level of spending means Texas has a less burdensome state government, which allows more money to remain in the productive private sector. In Kansas, we spend more on government.
The “sea of oil” and bountiful severance tax revenue that newspaper editorial writers say benefits Texas but not Kansas: In 2011 Kansas, which has a severance tax of its own, collected $42.54 in this form of tax for each person. Texas collected $104.29 per person in its severance tax. The difference between the two — $61.75 per person per year — is only a small portion of the difference between Kansas and Texas taxation.
I could go on. But the more facts one states, the more criticism one receives.
It’s not that what our governor is doing is perfect. It wasn’t the best course to single out certain forms of business organization to receive tax cuts. Everyone should have their taxes cut the same way.
Governor Brownback still meddles in the economy, supporting harmful policies like the renewable portfolio standard for electricity generation. The Hutchinson News editorial wrote of how “Kansas proved to be a state teeming with inventiveness, ingenuity, determination and a savvy sense of business” and mentioned iconic Kansas-founded companies like Cessna, Beech, Stearman, Coleman, Pizza Hut, and White Castle. But today our state is strangling entrepreneurs, expanding control over economic development under the Brownback regime. Kansas has expanded the realm of public-private partnerships to the detriment of entrepreneurship. Cities like Wichita implement new regulations over industries like parking lot striping, taxicab driving, and haunted house attractions.
Instead of moving to a modern pension system for state employees, we’re considering borrowing money to cover up the mistakes of the past, with no reform forthcoming and few lessons learned.
Most inexplicably, Governor Brownback was absent in this year’s debate over important school reform measures like charter schools and school choice. These are initiatives that are working in other states, but not in Kansas.
It isn’t supportive of our state (or county, city, or school district) to overlook facts in order to create a false impression of a prosperous state with successful schools. Yet that’s exactly what these newspaper editorials want us to do.
If we don’t learn the facts and if we don’t accept the facts, we don’t have a common base of understanding and a common starting point for debate. Even if the facts are uncomfortable — especially then — we must recognize where we’ve been and what is the actual condition of our state.
Hoping that Kansans won’t notice might be politically expedient. Both parties can be guilty of valuing political gain more than the health of Kansas. But it’s a severe loss to Kansas that these newspaper editorial writers will not recognize facts, and a shame that they prefer political attacks to reality.