Last November, Johnson Countians put their future in the hands of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Three months later, that’s looking like a terrible idea.
Voters helped re-elect Brownback over Democratic challenger Paul Davis by a 49-48 percent margin in the county. Why?
Because the Republican governor and his supporters promised that large income tax cuts would bring a flood of jobs across the state line to Johnson County. Brownback bragged about the county’s great school districts and said he would protect their funding. He also burnished his anti-tax credentials, saying Kansans “know how to spend their own money better than the government.”
However, plummeting state revenues — largely caused by the excessive tax cuts — have produced a recent gusher of exasperating and sometimes alarming news. During the Brownback-created budget catastrophe in Topeka:
▪ Funding for the county’s nationally acclaimed K-12 school districts is being threatened.
The Legislature next week is scheduled to hold a hearing on a bill that would slash $11 million from the six Johnson County school districts in the current fiscal year. This move is partly driven by the fact that the state is almost out of money, unable to keep the pledges it once made to adequately finance its schools.
Looking ahead, education officials say schools statewide will receive $127 million less in operating funds in the next fiscal year.
▪ Jobs are not fleeing the Missouri side of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Through December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said total nonfarm employment had grown by 16,700 workers on the Missouri side of the state line in the two years since Brownback’s tax cuts took effect in January 2013.
The Kansas-side increase was only 12,100 jobs.
Here’s worse news for Brownback supporters, such as Missouri multimillionare Rex Sinquefield, who have contended that even more people will leave Missouri the longer the tax cuts are in effect.
Actually, in 2014 the Show-Me State side of the border added 15,300 jobs. The Kansas side gained just 7,100.
▪ Far higher cigarette and liquor taxes are in the works.
Brownback this month proposed a near tripling of the cigarette tax to $2.29 a pack, far higher than Missouri’s 17-cent tax. His new budget also calls for a 50 percent increase in the liquor tax. Combined, these taxes could drive customers from Johnson County businesses to Missouri-side ones.
National anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who just a year ago said Brownback could be a 2016 presidential candidate, recently harshly criticized the proposed tax hikes. He added that consumers going to Missouri also “may make other purchases while shopping for tobacco — hurting the bottom lines of Kansas retailers.”
▪ Reductions in road repair funds and public pension contributions are on the horizon.
The governor’s budget would take hundreds of millions of transportation dollars to deal with the general fund shortfall. That could adversely affect maintenance of Johnson County’s highways.
Brownback also plans to slash contributions for at least a year to the state’s pension fund. It covers thousands of local teachers and city and county employees.
In the old, more progressive days of Johnson County, buyers’ remorse would be setting in by now. In today’s more conservative Johnson County, however, too many residents seem willing to give Brownback a very big benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, that attitude is jeopardizing the county’s future as a great place to live and work.