September 26, 2016

No matter what you think about Gov. Sam Brownback’s economic program, we can all agree that accurate, comprehensive data is necessary for making sound decisions about public policy. This is why Kansans should be dubious of the Brownback administration’s recent decision to stop publishing its quarterly “Indicators of the Kansas Economy” — especially considering the unflattering assessments that have been presented in the reports over the past few years.

When Brownback’s Council of Economic Advisors launched the IKE in early 2012, it was touted as a way to ensure accountability and transparency. As Brownback explained, “It is important we have a better way to understand and to benchmark what is happening in our state’s economy and ultimately set specific goals to drive Kansas forward.” He said the IKE report was a way to do this, as it would “monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect” — an admirable goal that has now been abandoned.

It isn’t difficult to see why the Brownback administration dropped the IKE. The report frequently demonstrated that Kansas is trailing many of its neighbors — as well as the rest of the country — on critical economic metrics. For example, the most recent report included information about the state’s abysmal nonfarm and private sector employment growth through March (-0.1 percent and -0.2 percent, respectively). On both measures, Kansas was among the worst states in the Midwest and the U.S. This was a major failure for Brownback, who reaffirmed his campaign promise to grow 100,000 jobs in his second term months before the report was issued.

The executive director of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Heidi Holliday, accused Brownback of discarding the IKE to hide the consequences of his economic policies: “He specifically asked the council to hold him accountable through rigorous performance metrics. Five years later, the metrics clearly show his tax experiment has failed while business leaders and local chambers of commerce across the state openly ask him to change course.”

Here’s another reason to be suspicious of the IKE cancellation: the timing. The Council of Economic Advisors (which is chaired by Brownback) stopped publishing the IKE online when Brownback faced a difficult re-election campaign in 2014. Although the reports were still available from the Kansas Department of Commerce, what possible rationale could there have been for making them more difficult to access? Now we’re a few months away from one of the most important legislative elections in years, and the council has decided to get rid of the report entirely. While these are speculative questions, Kansans need to ask them.

As Holliday notes, Brownback is trapped by his own rhetoric. Five years ago, he insisted that the IKE was necessary to assess his policies. What’s changed since then?

Here’s how Nicole Randall, a spokeswoman for the commerce department, describes the reports: “A lot of people found them helpful, but a lot of people were confused by them.” In reality, Kansans understand them all too well.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.

KendraTOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Editorial: Kansans should distrust cancellation of economic reports