Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cut act shouldn’t play well in Johnson County

Paul Davis (center) spoke Friday during a debate in Overland Park with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (left) and Keen Umbehr.
Paul Davis (center) spoke Friday during a debate in Overland Park with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (left) and Keen Umbehr. The Kansas City Star

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday kept whistling his happy tune that income tax cuts are great job creators in Kansas.

During a debate in Overland Park among the state’s gubernatorial candidates, however, Democrat Paul Davis and Libertarian Keen Umbehr accurately attacked the tax cuts as reckless ways to try to grow the state’s economy.

Brownback repeatedly plunged ahead, saying he wanted to go even further in lowering income taxes — despite the fact that income tax revenues were $300 million below estimates in the most recent fiscal year. And despite projections that the state could have to cut future spending given the potential of sluggish revenues resulting from the excessive tax reductions.

But this was the wrong audience for Brownback to wheel out the tired mantra that taxes are inherently bad.

Johnson County has been a strong economic engine for the state of Kansas for several decades, booming in population and jobs.

Why has this happened? Johnson County’s civic and political leaders of all stripes point to this overwhelming truth: Voters have endorsed numerous tax increases that have financed superior school systems along with better roads, parks, trails, public safety programs and educational research facilities.

In recent years voters have embraced new taxes for transportation in Olathe, pools in Mission and Fairway, the Blue Valley School District and the Johnson County Research Triangle. Voters also have renewed taxes in Overland Park, other cities and for Johnson County government.

For good measure, voters next door in up-and-coming Wyandotte County in 2010 gave a thumbs up to a higher sales tax for better public safety and infrastructure.

So when Brownback peddles the notion that Davis will be a tax-and-spend governor, that’s far closer to what Johnson Countians have wanted in the past than a slash-and-burn governor.

Brownback also patted himself on the back for championing the ability of school districts to raise their local option budgets, as a way for them to get more money.

How hypocritical.

Brownback, despite boasts to the contrary, is hardly the “education governor.” As we noted recently, the money school districts rely on to make their payrolls, purchase classroom supplies and meet other day-to-day expenses is $548 less on a per-student basis than it was six years ago.

There’s more. While Brownback says he’s a low-tax guy, he’s pushing higher taxes off on Johnson and Wyandotte county school districts through the local option budget. The Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission systems, for instance, this year raised their local property tax rates to try to keep providing first-class education to thousands of students. Voters in 2015 could be asked to extend the higher tax rates.

On Friday, Davis and Brownback also argued about how to create more jobs on the Kansas side of the metropolitan region.

Brownback several times contended that jobs are growing three times as fast on the Kansas side of the state line than they are on the Missouri side. That’s untrue, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Davis pointed to the truth during the debate trying to correct the record.

Summed up, since Brownback’s tax cuts took effect in January 2013, the Kansas side of the metro area had gained 6,800 jobs through July 31, or a growth rate of 1.5 percent.

On the Missouri side of the metro area, 7,700 new jobs had been added to a larger base of employees — for a similar growth rate of 1.4 percent.

There’s one more final bit of troubling news for Brownback’s attempts to link tax cuts to more jobs.

New federal figures on Friday showed that all of Kansas has added only 7,400 new jobs in 2014, or a 0.5 percent growth rate.

In Missouri, without any income tax cuts this year, the employment growth rate of 1.1 percent more than doubles what’s occurring in Kansas.

These facts aren’t good soundbites for the governor. But they are the troubling truth for a candidate who’s doubling down on a failed tax experiment while trying to stay in office.