What’s The Matter With Kansas? Nothing That An Election Can’t Fix

Way back in February of this year there were signs. Public Policy Polling began a piece on a survey conducted in Kansas, my old home state, this way:

Sam Brownback is one of the most unpopular Governors in the country. Only 37% of Kansas voters approve of him to 52% who disapprove. He meets with near universal disapproval from independents (22/66) and Democrats (14/81), but what really drives his numbers down is that even among Republicans just 55% approve of him to 30% who disapprove. 

Now, for those of us who have been witnessing the race to the bottom in Kansas—engineered by Tea Party fanatics in the state—that poll in February was good news. But the news is even better now because Democrats have a gubernatorial candidate who is turning heads in the Sunflower State. A poll conducted by SurveyUSA found:

Sam Brownback, who has served in Kansas as a Congressman, U.S. Senator, and now Governor, is in danger of being unseated after one term…Today, the Democratic ticket of Paul Davis and Jill Docking edges the Republican ticket of Brownback and Jeff Colyer, 43% to 39%.

Can Paul Davis actually win? Should Democrats even dare to dream that big? Well, the SurveyUSA pollsters also found that Brownback’s approval rating is a meager 34%. If it remains that low, maybe the dream can come true.

Another poll (“Kansas Speaks 2013”) conducted by Fort Hayes State University found that only 33.9% of people who voted in 2012 are “very” or “moderately” satisfied with Governor Brownback’s performance, while a whopping 45.5% are either “very” or “moderately” dissatisfied.

And satisfaction with the Tea Party-controlled Kansas legislature is worse. Of those who voted in 2012, only 27.3% are “very” or “moderately” satisfied with their lawmakers, while 44.4% are “very” or “moderately” dissatisfied.

Until the 2012 election, there were moderate Republicans in the Kansas Senate who would occasionally work with Democrats to keep the Tea Party zealots, who dominate the House, from burning the government down. However, the Koch brother-funded zealots knocked off enough moderates—and that is a relative term; they were pretty damned conservative—in 2012 to take control of the entire state government, with Brownback as the Chief Zealot.

Perhaps the major reason there has been a turnaround in public opinion is due to education funding in the state. Here is a recent headline from The Topeka Capital-Journal:

kansas education cuts

Public school funding has become a major issue in Kansas. A district court in the state ruled in January that the way the Tea Party extremists, led by Brownback, went about cutting income taxes and shortchanging public schools last year was unconstitutional, a decision that has been appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

And Paul Davis, the House Minority Leader who is currently leading Governor Brownback in the polls, has made the Tea Party’s stingy education funding a big part of his gubernatorial campaign. As the Topeka paper point out, Davis,

has said the district court appropriately acknowledged the governor’s “tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations directly conflict with our constitutional obligation to fund public schools.”

Davis’ message may be resonating. Here is a graph from the “Kansas Speaks” survey:

education funding in kansas

As you can see, even 50% of “strong Republicans” favor increasing education funding for K-12. That’s a big bleeping deal. (And almost 40% of “strong Republicans” favor increasing funding for higher education.)

I know—I know—it is way too early to get excited about all this. I know we can’t be the least bit confident that a majority of Kansans will next year decide to reject Tea Party governance. But, dammit, at least we have some hope.

For those of us here in Missouri, we have our own zealots to worry about. Earlier this month, Rex Singquefield, who is Missouri’s version of a gazillionaire Koch brother, wrote a glowing article on the alleged success of Kansas’ cut-taxes-on-the-wealthy-and-they-will-come experiment. The Forbes piece (“How Kansas Governor Brownback Schooled Missouri On Tax Cuts, And Showed The Region How To Grow”) has Singquefield saying:

Just one year later, a close look at the data backs up the economic projections of Brownback’s visionary leadership. Lower income tax rates have in fact stimulated the economy by reducing the price both of work and conducting business in the state, not to mention that lower rates have predictably proven effective when it comes to luring out-of-state businesses to Kansas’ friendlier business environment.

Singquefield’s “close look” at the data is so close that no one with normal vision can see it, unless, of course, they want to see it even if it ain’t there. I think that’s called hallucinating, or something akin to it. Whatever it’s called, Steve Rose, writing for the Kansas City Star, isn’t buying it:

Sinquefield claims the Kansas economy has been stimulated since the tax cuts.

Wrong. The Kansas economy is tracking most of the rest of the nation. There has been no discernible jolt upward.

Sinquefield also says that lower tax rates have “predictably proven effective when it comes to luring out-of-state businesses to Kansas’ friendlier business climate.”

What we do know is corporations have moved from Missouri to Johnson County and vice versa because of generous tax incentives that have nothing to do with Brownback’s income tax cuts.

One year later, what we also know is from July through September, revenue to the state coffers has declined by $135 million, or a 9 percent drop from last year. The Legislature’s research staff projects that there will be a net reduction this fiscal year of a half billion dollars and a billion dollars by 2018.

Rose admits that it is “way too early” to know if the tax-cutting “experiment” in Kansas will eventually do what the zealots claim, but he says:

What we do know so far about the experiment, besides sharply declining tax revenue, is that Kansas is short-changing schoolchildren because legislators decided to cut taxes rather than to restore reduced funding to public schools, and that choice may be coming home to roost.

As I said, at this point we can only hope he’s right.
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