Kansas state Sen. Jeff Melcher recently told his Johnson County constituents that he wanted to share with them “some actual results.”
Along with other conservative Republicans, Melcher says he doesn’t think the media are telling the truth about all the great things the Legislature accomplished in 2016.
Melcher wasn’t alone in his upbeat outlook. The Star reviewed recent newsletters from six other conservatives who often parrot Gov. Sam Brownback’s line that the “sun is shining in Kansas.”
Sen. Julia Lynn told Johnson County voters that economic data she had looked at “presents a stark contrast to the ‘gloom and doom’ opinion editorials in the newspaper.”
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Sen. Molly Baumgardner wrote to her Johnson County constituents that, “Despite misinformation by media outlets and special interest groups, the fact remains that our schools are generously funded by the state.”
Unfortunately, no matter how much Brownback and his allies trot out their version of the truth, they often ignore some basic facts about how things are going in Kansas — and get other stuff flat-out wrong.
For instance, almost all the GOP newsletters failed to mention a few things.
▪ The tens of millions of dollars in cuts to higher education.
▪ The record $1 billion-plus diversion of road improvements funds and projects put on hold around the state.
▪ The state’s lack of cash reserves after blowing through more than $700 million to balance the budget the last few years.
▪ And the ongoing revenue problems, including the loss of about $650 million a year in income tax revenues because of Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts.
Still, perusing the newsletters provides a telling glimpse into the mindset of embattled conservative Republican lawmakers. They largely have decided to protect those tax cuts for Kansans and 330,000 LLCs and live with the consequences.
Claim: State revenues are at record levels
Melcher’s newsletter made this assertion: “Contrary to what you may have heard, Kansas is bringing in more revenue than ever in the history of the state.”
Sen. Mike Peterson of Wichita mimicked Melcher’s comment, adding, “To date the state brought in $143 million more in revenue this year than last.”
The Star reviewed that claim.
Kansas Department of Revenue tax collections in the first 10 months of the 2016 fiscal year through April were $4.599 billion. That was indeed $143 million more than in the 2015 fiscal year.
However, that’s not because of a healthy economy. It’s because the Legislature in 2015 passed the largest tax increase in state history (which the lawmakers’ newsletters fail to mention).
So was the $4.599 billion the most in state history to that point?
Not even close.
In the 2012 fiscal year — before the Brownback tax cuts took effect — the state had collected $4.844 billion in taxes through April. That was $245 million more than this year.
In the 2013 fiscal year, tax revenues were $5.022 billion through April. That was $423 million higher than this year.
Verdict: Kansas is not bringing in more revenue than ever.
Claim: More than 80,000 private sector jobs have been created
Baumgardner used that figure in writing that “economic reforms have spurred the creation” of increased employment in Kansas.
Lynn said it this way: “Though media misinformation has been plentiful, the fact is our economic reforms have been successful.”
And state Rep. Blake Carpenter of Derby told constituents, “More than 80,000 new private sector jobs have been created since the enactment of economic reforms.”
The Star also looked at that claim.
According to figures from the Kansas Department of Labor and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state had 1,139,600 private sector jobs in April, the last date of available numbers for these newsletters. (The May numbers were released last Friday.)
The “economic reforms,” also known as the tax cuts, took effect in January 2013. At the time, the state had 1,106,100 private sector jobs.
So the state had gained only 33,500 private sector jobs since the tax cuts took effect. That’s not even close to 80,000.
The April 2016 figure, in fact, was only 600 jobs higher than the previous year and only 7,600 above the number in 2014. Private sector job growth has been almost stagnant the last two years.
Even if one includes the entire Brownback time at the helm of state government, which began January 2011, the state has added 65,300 private sector jobs in that span.
Verdict: Kansas has not added 80,000 private sector jobs since the economic reforms.
Of course, most reasonable Kansans realize what’s really happening in their state right now, never mind the upbeat political newsletters.
The Legislature is starting a special session Thursday to try to keep K-12 schools open with a constitutional funding plan. And lawmakers nervously watch every monthly revenue report to see whether the budget will have to be slashed again.
Kansas’ conservative lawmakers have created and fostered much of these crises. They and Brownback don’t want to accept that reality.
However, they can be held accountable. That’s why the Aug. 2 GOP primaries — especially in Johnson County —will be so crucial in getting rid of as many extremist lawmakers as possible.