Is the red dawn still rising for Brownback? As Andrew Wilson argues in the WSJ, perhaps Brownback’s government is no longer a total flop—even if it isn’t roaring success, either. Wilson cites statistics showing that unemployment is down and wages and job growth are up in Kansas these days, facts he attributes to Brownback’s tax cuts. A key piece of evidence in Wilson’s case is the Kansas City metro area, which straddles Kansas and Missouri. The Kansas side now has lower taxes than the Missouri side:
“I just think Kansas City is a great study,” the governor says. “This is an unusual place, where you’ve got a city virtually equally divided between two states.” The results? Over the past two calendar years, private-sector jobs increased by 5.6% on the Kansas side and only 2.2% on the Missouri. In the same period hourly wages grew $1.22 on the Kansas side, compared with $0.61 on the Missouri side.
Not all is rosy, of course. One enduring problem seems to be that wage and job growth aren’t making up for the lost tax income, putting the state’s budget in danger. According to the piece, Brownback has resorted to risky can-kicking to keep the budget afloat, including delaying pension contributions. But the growth is real (even if not spectacular) and Kansas appears to be improving its growth prospects for the long term.
One big gap in the Brownback approach is the lack of serious thought about the reinvention of government. We need to make it possible for government to do what it needs to do faster and cheaper, and IT productivity enhancements and thorough reform could both play big roles in streamlining governance. Those measures won’t change everything at once, either, but a state where growth was up and the cost of government administration on a long-term decline would look like a state on the way to long-term health.