In January 2011, ultra-conservative Kansas senator Sam Brownback returned home to the “Jayhawker” state to become governor. Upon taking office, Brownback set about making Kansas into a laboratory to prove that Reagan-era supply side economics could thrive. Instead, he succeeded in confirming that so-called “trickle down” economics is an unmitigated disaster.
One of Brownback’s first moves was to slash income taxes. As a supply side “true believer,” the governor promised that the reduction in business tax rates would spur a massive wave of business expansion and new jobs. Instead, it had the same effect on Kansas’s treasury that Reagan’s tax cuts had on the national level — the state very quickly began going broke. The situation has become so bad that even the governor’s former conservative allies in the state legislature have been jumping off the sinking ship. Some have called for rolling back some of the tax cuts, but Brownback has refused. Instead, his answer has been the same thing that conservatives always do when faced with a budget problem: he has drastically cut services.
In April, faced with a budget hole of $290 million, Brownback proposed a cut of $185 million to the state highway fund as part of the solution. Another suggestion was an across the board reduction in all government agencies, including education. Nowhere in his proposals were any plans to rescind his business income tax exemption, which critics of the governor say is costing the state up to $250 million a year.
Brownback’s idea, like that of other supply siders is “if you cut it (taxes), they (businesses) will come.” But it hasn’t happened. Recently, one company announced that they will be leaving Kansas for next-door Missouri, and the CEO laid the blame for the move squarely at Brownback’s feet.
Jeff Blackwood is CEO of Pathfinder Health Innovations, a company that manages insurance paperwork and medical records for behavioral health providers. In a June 13 post on the company’s blog, Blackwood spelled out exactly why the company was pulling up stakes from their Overland Park office, and heading east to Missouri.
I can’t, in good conscience, continue to give our tax money to a government that actively works against the needs of its citizens; a state that is systematically targeting the citizens in most need, denying them critical care and reducing their cost of life as if they’re simply a tax burden that should be ignored.
Blackwood says that the company has grown too big for its current offices, and finding new space was necessary. But thanks to Brownback’s policies, that space will not be in Kansas.
The Pathfinder CEO attacks not only Brownback, but also fellow Kansas residents Charles and David Koch, who Blackwood sees as being behind many of the governor’s policies:
In recent years, Kansas has become a battleground for conservative ideals. Traditionally, Kansas was a moderate state, with the governorship switching every other election between Democratic and Republican governors. But the election of hyper-conservative Sam Brownback as governor heralded a new age of far right wing ideology.
It wasn’t just that Brownback was conservative; it was that he is seen as a tool of the Koch brothers and ALEC, a conservative think tank and lobbying organization. Brownback used his influence and funding to eliminate ‘moderate’ republicans from the Kansas legislature and install his hand-picked conservative cronies. He couldn’t do the same with the Kansas Supreme Court, which has ruled a number of the conservative legislature’s laws as unconstitutional, so Brownback’s administration decided to threaten to cut off funding to the court system and is actively pursuing legislation to impeach the Supreme Court.
And he lays the blame of the disaster that Kansas has become squarely at the feet of supply side economics:
Kansas has become a test center of ‘trickle down’ economics, espoused by economist Arthur Laffer during the Reagan years. Nowhere has there been as thorough an implementation of Laffer’s policy recommendations… and nowhere has there been as dramatic a failure of government.
Blackwood details how the Brownback administration has tried to balance its budget on the backs of the most vulnerable. The governor has cut funding for social services and privatized Medicaid, while at the same time rejecting the federal Medicaid expansion money that came along with the Affordable Care Act. Blackwood says the changes in Medicaid have been disastrous, resulting in “significant delays in determining eligibility, inexplicable loss of coverage, caseloads increased, providers struggling to get paid.” So much for the libertarian mantra of the private sector doing things better and more efficiently.
Blackwood offers this example of how bad dealing with Medicaid in Kansas has become:
At the beginning of 2016, over 17,000 Medicaid applications were waiting for approval, 8,000 of which were well beyond the federally mandated 45-day threshold for processing. Pregnant women, who would have received services by default under the previous Medicaid plan in Kansas, were now waiting 4+ months for services, often exceeding the term of their pregnancy by the time services were authorized.
Education cuts have been disastrous, too, the CEO says:
The state’s public education system, once considered one of the best in the nation, hasn’t been spared, either. You’ll hear claims from Kansas officials that funding to education is at an all time high, but it’s just an accounting trick – they chose to shuffle money for special education and retirement funds through the schools so it could appear as an increase on the books. Salary freezes, underfunding to the point of being ruled unconstitutional, laws allowing teachers to be imprisoned for introducing potentially “offensive” content, cuts and delays in $100 million in payments to the state-run retirement fund, and legislation specifically targeted to cripple the Kansas teacher’s union are all part of an ongoing effort to undermine the public education system in Kansas.
Along with destroying the public education system, Brownback plans to offer vouchers for parents to send their children to religious and other private schools.
Blackwood sums up the Brownback/Koch plan for the state this way:
In the end, I believe the goals of the Brownback administration are going exactly to plan – starve the state of resources to the point where it just makes sense to turn over critical government functions to for-profit entities.
For those reasons, Pathfinder Health Innovations will take up new residence in Missouri as of next month. And it sounds like the CEO, at least, will be glad he’s not in Kansas anymore.
You can read Blackwood’s complete post here.
Featured image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images