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What’s the Matter with Kansas?

By Alan Cobb, State Director of Americans For Prosperity, Kansas

Many would describe that much of Kansas is in decline. Over 75 percent of the counties in Kansas have lost population just since 2000. Over half of Kansas’ counties have fewer residents today than 1900.

Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kansas is in real danger of losing a Congressional seat during the next reapportionment because of anemic population growth. Kansas population growth from 2000 to 2004 was only 1.7 percent while the nation as a whole grew 4.3 percent. Sedgwick County’s growth was only 2.3% during this time. Kansas’ annual growth of less than one-half of one percent should startle anyone concerned about the future of our fine State.

No matter how you measure growth, Kansas is struggling, particularly when compared to the other 50 states. Kansas is in the bottom ten among states in population growth, income growth and job growth.

Unbelievably, this century Kansas has lost 16,700 private sector jobs while the government sector actually added 15,000 jobs.

The same week it was reported that Kansas may lose a Congressional seat, the Tax Foundation released a study that stated Kansas has the 15th highest state and local tax burden. We are tied with New Jersey and higher than Massachusetts and California. Kansas has a higher tax burden than all of our neighboring states except Nebraska.

Recently the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas compared every Kansas County that borders another State. Except for the Kansas counties bordering Nebraska, the Kansas counties fared worse than their neighbors in Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma when measuring economic activity, income growth and population growth.

Of the top twenty states in population growth this century, all but two states, Utah and Hawaii, have lower tax burdens than Kansas.

I have heard a Kansas legislator comment that that’s just the way it is; Kansas is a rural, Great Plains state and rural, Great Plains states aren’t growing. I do not believe that is true, but even if it were, I am not ready to accept that.

What are we to do about our population predicament? First we must decide that the lack of economic growth is a problem. And we must be brutally honest about the solutions. Is more government spending and taxation the solution? Are more government owned and constructed buildings the solutions for Wichita or Salina or Lakin?

Are we, as a State, willing to honestly assess our State’s strengths and weaknesses and make the necessary policy changes needed for growth?

Without any changes to the path we’re on, rural Kansas faces a bleak future.

I am not willing to accept the declining status quo as the best we can do, and I don’t think most Kansans are either.

What are we prepared to do?

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