A lie told often enough becomes the truth, or so Vladimir Lenin once said. At the very least, misleading information skews reality, and that’s where Kansans find themselves today–asked to believe that Kansas’ current budget problems are solely the result of a 2012 tax cut, and not the result of outrageous and continued growth in government spending.
Here the misrepresentation appears again in a column for the Hays Post, written by Michael A. Smith, an Emporia State University political science professor.
“Once moderate Republicans like Robert Bennett, Mike Hayden, and Bill Graves proudly presided over conservatively managed, balanced budgets,” he writes.
Not exactly, Mr. Smith.
Former Gov. Bill Graves faced a $113.4 million shortfall in 2001. The following year, he ordered $41 million in cuts to balance the 2002 budget. One budget Graves proposed cut spending by 10 percent, or $426 million. The legislature didn’t take Graves’ suggestion.
It should be noted that Graves attempted to use spending cuts to Kansas schools, canceled highway construction projects and cuts to Medicaid in 2001 to balance the budget.
Former Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden had an advantage that future Kansas Governors would not have. Net farm income was growing while Hayden was in office. In 1987, it grew by $4 billion.
Though Gov. Sam Brownback repeatedly notes difficulty in the farming sector is driving down state revenues, Kansas spending continues to increase. The Wall Street Journal has taken notice, but Kansas reporters appear unwilling to mention the major challenges that sector faces and its impact on state revenues.
“Soon there will be fewer than two million farms in America for the first time since pioneers moved westward after the Louisiana Purchase,” the Wall Street Journal reports from Ransom, Kansas. “…Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain worldwide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.”
Farm incomes are expected to drop by 9 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most heartland state budgets are in disarray, even those states that didn’t cut income taxes or carve out an LLC-exemption in 2012.
Oklahoma faces a $900 million deficit this year. Nebraska is facing almost a $1 billion shortfall. Iowa is staring down the barrel of $100 million shortfall.
Over in Missouri, it looks like newly-elected Republican Governor Eric Greitens has inherited a $200-$300 million shortfall. And that’s after his predecessor Gov. Jay Nixon cut $51 million on his way out of office.
To ESU political science professor Smith, spending more than a state takes in isn’t the problem.
“At the state level resides another pernicious problem: the cost of providing government services increase each year,” he writes.
The cost of farming and running every other business goes up as well, especially when more taxes are shoveled upon business owners. The difference between government spending and farm spending is that a farmer will be forced to make cuts somewhere else when he can’t make revenues match expenditures. The Kansas Government’s answer to the problem has been to spend even more and increase taxes. Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.
Smith writes, “Teachers and other government employees are not receiving more generous benefits. Rather, the cost of providing the same benefits goes up substantially each year, mainly duet those increasing health care and retirement costs. This hasn’t been a problem until recently.”
Hold the phone while the truth tellers put on some pants.
No industry has been immune from increased healthcare costs.
Govs. Joan Finney, Graves, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson all underfunded the Kansas Public Employment Retirement System during their terms—even in years when Kansas wasn’t facing budget shortfalls. When Brownback took office, KPERS had the largest unfunded liability in the country. Now, KPERS’ unfunded liability ranks in the middle of the pack. Fixing the previous administrations’ KPERS damage has meant additional state retirement expenses, but Brownback’s tax policy didn’t dig that hole.
Smith closes with this line: “But can (Republicans) give up their party’s love affair with deficit spending?”
Smith’s argument is an odd one considering deficit spending appears to be a bipartisan love affair in Kansas. A discussion about Kansas tax policy and budget would be a welcome one if the purveyors of information bothered telling the whole story.
The Kansas budget has had a structural imbalance that goes back decades. The oft-repeated suggestion that it exists due to Kansas’ 2012 tax policy is misleading at best. A truthful discussion about growth in government spending that continually outpaces CPI is in order.
Unfortunately, the myth of the damaging 2012 tax cuts put its pants on early, and the truth is just now getting out of the shower.