Look at the facts, not the myths, on job growth in Johnson and Wyandotte counties

08/27/2014 5:53 PM

08/27/2014 5:57 PM

About 40 business, educational and political leaders from across Kansas are in the metropolitan area today, ready to hear upbeat reports about how Johnson and Wyandotte counties’ economies are faring.

One story line heard by Leadership Kansas members will come straight from Gov. Sam Brownback’s playbook: His massive income tax cuts are helping the counties gain jobs, often from Kansas City and other cities in nearby Missouri.

And local economic development officials will contend that Johnson and Wyandotte counties are winning the border war with Missouri by giving out large tax breaks to entice businesses to hop the state line.

But participants in Leadership Kansas — a group supported and administered by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce — should examine a few facts before drawing any conclusions about the “success” of the tax reductions or the border war in this region.

Since the tax cuts took effect in January 2013, the Kansas side of this region — primarily Johnson and Wyandotte counties — had gained only 6,800 jobs through July 31. That’s according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment totals. The growth rate was 1.5 percent.

Over the same time, counties on the Missouri side of the state line had added 7,700 jobs on a bigger base of employees, for a similar growth rate of 1.4 percent.

These figures indicate that much of the hype about the tax cuts and the border war is a myth, which politicians and economic development directors foist upon local residents and visitors.

Members of Leadership Kansas for years have trekked to this part of the state to hear chest-thumping that often was warranted.

For instance, from 2010 to 2012, employment in Johnson and Wyandotte counties accounted for 60 percent of the job growth in Kansas. However, since Brownback’s tax cuts took effect, that share has plummeted to 30 percent.

Leadership Kansas participants can take some comfort in the knowledge that new jobs are popping up in other parts of the state. However, as has been well documented, Kansas’ total employment growth rate has fallen behind most neighboring states’ rates since 2011.

Truth is, the huge Kansas income tax cuts are draining valuable revenue from basic services for residents. Meanwhile, Missouri is winning almost as many jobs as it loses in the border war — unfortunately after handing out costly tax breaks of its own.

Neither strategy is building a better future for the two states or for the Kansas City region.

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