Even the harshest cynic would be hard-pressed to deny the role that Brownback’s religious faith plays in his life. There are few people better-suited to advance the cause of religious freedom around the globe than Brownback.
“Religious freedom is the first freedom,” the governor said on Twitter Wednesday. “I am honored to serve such an important cause.”
But as Brownback prepares to depart, it’s an appropriate time to look back at what the governor’s conservative economic policies will cost taxpayers for years to come. Let there be no doubt: Brownback leaves a financial train wreck in his wake.
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From the state’s drained highway fund to its beleaguered pension system for state workers, Kansas taxpayers now have a lot of fiscal ground to make up. In fact, the total reaches into the billions.
Our advice to taxpayers: Grab a shovel and start digging. Escaping from this fiscal mess is going to take a lot of work — and possibly still more tax increases, as we’ve pointed out.
“For a small Midwestern state, it’s a massive hole,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “And it’s going to take years to recover.”
At this point, there’s no excuse for anybody to be surprised by the aftermath of Brownback’s sweeping tax cuts. Media reports far and wide have chronicled the steps the state has taken in recent years to fill in the resulting revenue gaps.
On the day in 2012 when Brownback signed the tax-cut bill, critics were already forecasting fiscal doomsday. The measure slashed state income taxes by roughly $3.7 billion over five years. State financial analysts were predicting budget deficits totaling $2.5 billion in 2018.
Undaunted, Brownback insisted that the improved business climate would benefit all.
“We’re going to move this forward and make it work and take care of our fundamental services,” Brownback said that day.
But new figures from the Legislative Services Department in Topeka suggest a vastly different story. They show that since Brownback’s first year in office, the state has raided various funds or delayed payments to the tune of $3.1 billion.
That includes about $2.5 billion in payments to the state highway fund that were diverted elsewhere. In other words, instead of depositing funds into the highway account to maintain roads, the money was diverted to the general fund and other accounts.
Essentially, Brownback and lawmakers figured that the only way to finance basic services following those massive tax cuts was to dip into piggy banks.
Critics suggest that as highways deteriorate, the state will be hard-pressed to maintain them given all the ongoing highway-fund raids.
Brownback and lawmakers also delayed payments totaling more than $407 million from the employee retirement system, or KPERS. Economic development programs were raided to the tune of $125 million. About $47 million intended for children’s programs was diverted.
That’s only part of it. The state borrowed $1 billion and deposited it into the retirement account for needed stability. That money will have to be repaid, and so will the $407 million to make pension payments.
Likewise, we’ll never know what was lost in terms of progress for kids via those early childhood programs.
Years from now, taxpayers will still be footing the Brownback bill.