Gov. Sam Brownback had a problem about two years ago: A group he had set up in 2011 and led as its chairman kept putting out quarterly reports that showed Kansas’ economy was in the tank.
What to do?
First, Brownback and his supporters tried to hide the report — issued by his Council of Economic Advisors — from the public. I wrote about that shameful fact last January.
But now the governor and other state officials have done something else: They have killed the report all together, as the Topeka Capital-Journal recently learned.
Because the reports never showed that the 2012 income tax cuts he and the Legislature approved were injecting new life into the state’s economy. Instead, they revealed that Kansas far too often was doing poorly on crucial financial measuring sticks when compared to other states in this region as well as all of the United States. Even worse, Kansas sometimes was faring worse than it had before Brownback became governor.
Remember when Brownback said in his 2014 re-election campaign that “the sun is shining in Kansas”?
Alas, all that sunshine has disappeared behind a big, dark cloud of obfuscation.
Of course, these were not the reasons given by state officials for the demise of the reports.
“A lot of people found them helpful, but a lot of people were confused by them,” said Nicole Randall, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Commerce.
In reality, the information was pretty specific and easy to understand. Consider these examples from a 2015 report I wrote about in early 2016.
▪ Kansas’ gross state product — “providing an overall analysis of the performance of the economy” — rose 3.2 percent over the previous year. But for the third straight year, the Kansas rate fell behind the six-state region and the nation. Here’s a kick in the teeth to Brownback supporters: The Kansas gross state product grew at a faster rate when compared to the region and the nation in three of the five years before he took office in 2011.
▪ Private industry wages in Kansas grew at a slower clip for the last year than they did in the region and America — just as they have over the last five years.
▪ The number of private business establishments in Kansas trailed both the region and the nation for the last year, again continuing a five-year trend.
The promises that Brownback for years has made about the tax cuts — especially that they would lead to a jobs bonanza — simply aren’t coming true.
Rather than continue to allow the council to put out its information for Kansans to evaluate, the report now will be deep-sixed.
Heidi Holliday, executive director of the nonprofit Kansas Center for Economic Growth, got it right when she said of the governor: “He specifically asked the council to hold him accountable through rigorous performance metrics. Five years later, the metrics clearly show his tax experiment has failed while business leaders and local chambers of commerce across the state openly ask him to change course.”
Here’s a simple message to Brownback and his backers.
Trying to hide the truth about the lagging economy doesn’t make the state’s real problems less painful for the people of Kansas.