When I recently wrote about the Missouri GOP’s stubborn attempt to render unto Rex Sinquefield what – by virtue of his checkbook – is Rex Sinquefield’s, namely one more dreary iteration of their efforts to reduce or eliminate taxes for the wealthy, I also noted that a similar experiment seemed to be tanking in Kansas – even to such an extent that the popularity of Kansas GOP Governor Sam Brownbeck was in the pits.
Imagine, then, my amazement, when I learned via an opinion piece in The Kansas City Star that there are folks that think Kansas is in exemplary shape. None other than Missouri’s ever-generous billionaire, Rex Sinquefield, seems to have informed readers of Forbes Magazine that “a close look at the data backs up the economic projections of Brownback’s visionary leadership.”
So who’s right? Me? Or Rex Snquefield? The Star‘s contributing author, I’m happy to say, backs up my contentions about the state of Kansas, pointing out that, contrary to Sinquefield’s claims, the state’s economy is “tracking most of the rest of the nation” with “no discernable jolt upward.”
What interests me, though, is the way that Mr. Sinquefield, borrowing a tactic from so many movers and shakers on the right, takes a kernel of truth and by either twisting it or ignoring other equally relevant facts, begins to run a premature victory lap – with a view to taking a similar lope around the track in Missouri once his pets in the legislature enact his long-sought after rich-man’s tax cut. Not for nothing was his Forbes article titled “How Kansas Governor Brownback Schooled Missouri On Tax Cuts, And Showed The Region How To Grow.”
Mr. Sinquefield asserts that “lower income tax rates have in fact stimulated the economy by reducing the price both of work and conducting business in the state.” Half true. The cost of work – what people get paid – did decrease. A Center for Tax Policy report cites “Bureau of Labor statistics that showed Kansas was one of 20 states where inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings of private employees decreased between May 2012 and last May.” This fact fits well with other reports that document conistent increases during Brownback’s tenure in the number of Kansans living in poverty.
What’s not so true is the part about lower income tax rates stimulating the economy. While some business organizations have upped Kansas “business-friendly” type of rating, based mostly on government policies rather than results, recent economic reports aren’t so glowing:
… another report shows Kansas lagging most states in economic growth from February to May and predicted it will trail in the next six months.
“Most states improved over the past quarter; only Alaska, Kansas, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Wyoming experienced declines,” said the State Economic Monitor report by the Tax Policy Center, which provides independent analyses of tax issues.
The report cited an economic growth measure produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that combines non-farm employment, average manufacturing hours worked, the state’s unemployment rate and real wages.
The Philadelphia Fed also produces an index that measures future economic activity for six months, and again Kansas was among the bottom states.
If you’re interested in going into Mr. Sinquefield’s claims in greater detail, you might be enlightened by what he fails to tell us, for instance, about the unemployment rate in Kansas. He reports correctly that Kansas unemployment fell from 7% in 2011 when Brownback took office to 5.8%, a decline of 1.2 percentage points. Not so spectacular, however, when you consider that during the same period, Missouri’s unemployment rate fell 2.1 percentage points. Apart from the fact that the Kansas jobless rate is actually currently 5.9%, what Sinquefield also fails to tell us is that the Kansas number reflects an increase in unemployment, from 5.5% in January. This loss of jobs occurred during a time that saw national unemployment numbers decreasing from 7.9% to 7.3%.
I don’t know about you, but when I took a closer look at Mr. Sinquefield’s claims and did a little research, I still wasn’t too impressed with Kansas’ economic growth record over the past couple of years. I will admit, though, that if I were naively reading Sinquefield’s Forbes encomium to Governor Brownback, I might think that he was on to something. Which takes us back to those polls that show Brownback tanking in Kansas. One lesson that one can draw from Mr. Brownback’s fall from popular grace is that folks learn from experience. Another lesson, though, seeks to account for the 30-some percent who still approve of his performance – and goes to show that if you jigger the numbers skillfully enough, you actually can fool some of the people all of the time.