All politicians spin. They exaggerate and make selective use of facts and data. These are tricks of the trade.
But I have never seen a public official lie as easily and as relentlessly as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
That sounds harsh, and it is possible that Brownback actually believes his own mythology. But much of what he has told the citizens of Kansas is flat out wrong.
Brownback has lied about the fiscal conditions he inherited. He spins a fantasy about a low-tax utopia even as his state is exhausting its budget reserves, staring at more cuts in education, and not experiencing the promised economic rebound. He has salted his administration with sycophants who tell lies of their own.
Where to begin?
There’s the $876-in-the-bank lie, which Brownback has repeated in three state-of-the-state addresses, on national broadcasts, in multiple interviews and as recently as a September campaign debate. That’s the one where he inherited a measly $876 in the treasury and through his amazing governance converted it into a $500 million surplus in two years.
Complete hokum. Money was flowing into the state treasury when Brownback took office in January 2011 because his predecessor, Democrat Mark Parkinson, signed into law a one-cent sales tax increase to rescue Kansas from the devastating effects of the 2008 recession. The state had $251 million in its bank account when Brownback was sworn in, and the revenue flow was strong until his income tax cuts kicked in.
There was the “I shrunk government spending by $2 billion” lie, which Brownback enshrined into a power point presentation. The claim was debunked, and blamed on a spread sheet error by a former budget director. It is one of the few false boasts the administration owned up to and apologized for.
There’s the “record school funding” lie, which has become a bogus campaign theme.
Brownback says he has put “a record amount of money into education.” But his numbers are inflated by increases to teacher pension funds and capital projects. The money school districts use to pay employees, purchase supplies and meet other day-to-day expenses is $548 less on a per-student basis than it was six years ago.
Brownback is not a friend of public education. He has railed against judges who ordered the state to finance schools more adequately. He crafted outlandish tax cuts instead of making up the shortfall in school funding left by the recession. His allies at the Kansas Policy Institute have proposed even more cuts to schools and colleges as a way to balance the budget in upcoming years.
And lest we forget, there is the “shot of adrenaline” lie. That’s the effect that slashing income taxes for upper-income Kansans and certain types of businesses was supposed to have on the state’s economy.
There was no good science to back up that claim, just some discredited charts and graphs from huckster economist Arthur Laffer. And more than two years later, government data shows Kansas still lags behind most other states in the nation and region in job growth.
Still, the mythmaker forges on. Brownback says he thinks the state can create 100,000 new jobs over the next four years. Really? Kansas this year is averaging 1,000 new private sector jobs a month. Job creation would have to more than double to get close to the governor’s prediction.
Brownback’s desperate form of dishonesty has permeated his administration. In a move that was certainly improper and may have violated a prohibition on political activity while on the job, Nick Jordan, his revenue director, sent an opinion piece to his department’s employees recently, rehashing cherrypicked economic data in a clumsy attempt to convince staffers that the promised renaissance has begun.
Shawn Sullivan, Brownback’s latest budget director, tells followers on Twitter that everything is fine, no reason to worry. But unless revenues rebound, Kansas is looking at a $260 million budget imbalance, with more tax cuts set to kick in. It’s alarming to see a budget director divorce himself from reality.
And the governor himself? “The sun is shining in Kansas,” Brownback says in his campaign materials.
The sun is shining on a budget in crisis, fair-to-middling job growth, credit downgrades and fears of what the future might bring. There’s nothing like a bright light to expose the lies.