PITTSBURG — Peter and Paul both live in Kansas.
Paul: “I need lots of money to fix a big hole in the Kansas state budget.” Peter: “OK, go ahead, rob me!”
Robbing Peter to take care of Paul is now the preferred way of doing business in Topeka.
Gov. Sam Brownback reluctantly endorsed a plan to raid the KDOT dedicated highway funds to plug a gaping hole in the state budget caused by cutting the personal income tax for many well-to-do Kansans last year. Brownback hopes these “job creators” (formerly called rich people, who will now get richer) will respond by creating more jobs and investing in new business. Makes sense, right?
Why should Kansas continue to have the third best highway system in the United States, with no interstate miles in bad condition, and superhighway expansion plans like making U.S. Highway 69 a four-lane highway from north of Pittsburg to Interstate 44? What would that do for economic development in SE Kansas anyway? (After all, it is the poorest part of the state, and tends to vote Democratic, so what’s the big deal anyway?)
Those programs are expendable, in Brownback’s line of thinking, although he won’t publicly admit it. He claims there is enough money in the transportation fund to do both. Peter and Paul both know better. They know a robbery when they see one.
Brownback, according to the AP, said that he “would have liked to avoid diverting money from the transportation program, but he had to deal with ‘the big trough’ on the budget caused by last year’s income tax cuts.”
Does that sound like a man convinced of the rectitude of his positions, or someone who is making it up as he goes along? And who created the “big trough” in last year’s budget, anyway? It wasn’t Peter and it certainly wasn’t Paul. So, better say it again, Sam.
Brownback and his legislative minions in Topeka are in the middle of a campaign to make Kansas a mini-Texas. They are drinking the Kool-Aid of Arthur Laffer, who claims that the economic vitality of a state is dependent in large part on how much and how quickly taxes are cut for the job producing class. The problem is, Laffer is wrong.
There is a complex mix of variables that predict the economic vitality of states and communities, and the tax structure is indeed one component, but by far not the only factor that may contribute to the robustness of a state’s economy. If it were the only factor, Minnesota would be a wasteland and Lake Wobegone a faded tourist destination. That is far from the case, as it turns out.
And there are stark differences between Texas and Kansas, and between Kansas and Florida (which has no income tax as well). Texas is much larger and has 10 times the population of Kansas, and plenty of seacoast for tourists, and ports for engines of economic development. So does Florida.
Kansas is landlocked, fairly flat, and devoid of many megalopolises. It does have an excellent highway network, outstanding public higher educational institutions, pretty good public schools, and a robust agricultural industry. Three of those things are being put at risk by Brownback’s gambit to cut the income tax for the “job creators” in the belief that it will transform Kansas into the Oz-like state he hopes for. In cutting money for the very institutions that have contributed to stability and long-term growth in Kansas, the Governor may be cutting off Kansas’ nose to spite its face.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul may work in the short term, but in the long term, highway robbery is just that, highway robbery, and it is the people of Kansas who will be victimized by this cockamamie conundrum that the Kansas governor is trying to sell as a serious budget. If you don’t believe me, just ask Peter. He is the one who is getting robbed.
And Peter is from Kansas.
* Texas population is 26 million, while Kansas is 2.8 million
John Sullivan is an instructor at Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern State. This op-ed is reprinted from the April 17, 2013 edition of the Pittsburg Morning Sun.