Yael T. Abouhalkah

How Sam Brownback can shut up his harshest critics

Protesters showed up in early February in Topeka after Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued an order that took away job protection for LGBT state employees.
Protesters showed up in early February in Topeka after Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued an order that took away job protection for LGBT state employees. The Associated Press

As Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback looks for ways to shut up his harshest critics, four ideas stand out.

He could take care of a couple by himself.

At least two others could happen in the coming months and dramatically reduce the heat Brownback is taking for his fiscal actions.

▪ First and most importantly, he could admit that the excessive income tax cuts he promoted in 2012 went too far.

They have drained the state of unprecedented amounts of revenue.

A major announcement like this from Brownback would take a lot of courage, but so far he is not ready to make that happen.

▪ Second, he could stop blaming others for the state’s fiscal woes, and offer some reasonable alternatives.

But he has failed to do that for months. At one point it was President Barack Obama who was weighing the state down. At another time more recently, the governor challenged other people to come up with alternatives, hardly the look of a politician confident that his plan is going to work: “If you’ve got a better idea, great. Let’s hear it. Criticism, fine, but come up with your ideas.”

Brownback’s recent budget plan called for slowing down the income tax cuts in their tracks, which at least shows some fiscal sanity. But he also pledged to continue the “march to zero” in income taxes. Plus, his tobacco and liquor taxes face stiff opposition in the Legislature.

▪ Third, income tax collections in Kansas could suddenly get a lot healthier.

Brownback could use that information to try to convince longtime skeptics that the tax cuts are, in fact, creating new revenue.

State officials release revenue data at the end of each month, and the next report should be out this Friday.

Unfortunately for Brownback and his supporters, the financial news has been pretty unsettling for much of the current fiscal year, which started last July 1. Even after officials prepared more conservative revenue estimates in November, the state since then has fallen $60 million further behind its expected collections.

That shortfall has had devastating effects. Just days after the state failed to take in $47 million it had expected in January, Brownback announced a nearly $45 million cut in funds for K-12 schools and for higher education institutions.

▪ Fourth, job creation in Kansas could soar much higher than it has in the first four years of Brownback’s time in office.

The governor keeps talking about the approximately 55,000 private sector jobs that the state has gained since January 2011. But the more important figure is the rate of job growth, and it’s been slower than the national average. It’s also been far behind the 2,000-a-month target that Brownback has said he hopes the state will add during his second term. In fact, the state added just 12,800 jobs in all of 2014.

The next jobs data for Kansas — for the month of January — will be released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in March. Later that month, the BLS will provide Kansas job figures for February.

Brownback’s critics have excellent reasons to be worried about how his income tax cuts have devastated the state’s finances. Cuts in funding for education, roads and pensions are ahead, imperiling the quality of life in Kansas.

Brownback will need a lot of help to shut up his critics, especially if he won’t take the first step and admit his own mistakes in Kansas’ fiscal mess.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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