Government & Politics

Kansas is far off pace of Brownback’s campaign goal for job growth

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback

Kansas is far off pace from meeting Gov. Sam Brownback’s ambitious campaign goal of adding 25,000 private-sector jobs a year during his second term.

Brownback said on his campaign website that he would add “100,000 new jobs for the hardworking people of Kansas” over four years. The talking point was a centerpiece of Brownback’s 2014 re-election campaign, but two years into to the governor’s second term, the state is nowhere near that mark.

Kansas lost 2,300 private-sector jobs between January 2016 and January 2017, according to preliminary numbers from the Kansas Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which were released Friday. Those numbers are seasonally adjusted.

The previous year, Kansas gained about 14,700 private-sector jobs during the same period, according to the Kansas Department of Labor.

This comes out to a net gain of 12,400 private-sector jobs since Brownback’s second inauguration. That’s 37,600 jobs short of where the state should be at this point if it were on pace to meet Brownback’s goal.

Brownback’s office did not directly answer a question about whether the governor still thinks the state will meet his goal by the time his second term ends in January 2019.

Melika Willoughby, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an email that the report shows that the Kansas economy is strong and growing. She also touted the policies of President Donald Trump, whose administration Brownback could potentially join in the near future.

“Kansans who are searching for jobs have found them — our state achieved record private sector jobs in 2016 and the lowest number of unemployed Kansans in 15 years. While challenges in the agriculture and oil sectors have impacted growth here, we are optimistic that the President’s actions to grow the economy will result in strong growth moving forward,” Willoughby said.

Kansas cut income taxes across the board in 2012 at Brownback’s urging and eliminated state income taxes entirely for the owners of limited liability companies and other closely held businesses. Brownback said these tax cuts would spur economic growth.

Ken Kriz, an economist at Wichita State University who has studied Brownback’s tax cuts, predicted in 2014 that the state would not meet Brownback’s campaign goal.

“I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so,” Kriz said Friday. “It’s further evidence that the current set of policies is not having the desired effect.”

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said again Wednesday that he wouldn't comment about taking a job in the Trump administration.

Kriz and colleagues at Wichita State studied the impact of tax cuts across all 50 states over 40 years and found that states see a short-term bump in job growth, which flattens out in the long-term. “After two years, it disappears,” Kriz said.

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said that without major growth at the national level or one of the state’s industries seeing a period of rapid growth, it was unlikely the state would achieve the type of job growth Brownback talked about on the campaign trail.

“The governor certainly may have thought that his policies, both tax cuts and less regulations, could drive a significant bump in jobs. He probably still believes that statement,” Denning said.

Denning said that “too many headwinds made it impossible to achieve.”


Emilie Doerksen, an economist for the Kansas Department of Labor, noted in the monthly labor report that despite the state’s low unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, “the labor force and employment have contracted over the year. This is consistent with the survey of employers which indicates fewer nonfarm jobs than last year.”

The industries that saw the biggest one-year drops were mining and logging, which saw an 8.1 percent decrease in jobs, and information services, which lost jobs at a rate of 5.7 percent, according to the report.

Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, called Brownback’s policies a failure. Kansas currently faces a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall through June 2019, which many analysts blame on Brownback’s tax policies.

“We have a budget crisis, structurally unbalanced, we have tax unfairness and we haven’t gotten any of the promised gains, which are jobs and economic vitality,” Ward said. “That’s just lose, lose, lose.”

The Star’s Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3