September 24, 2016
Gov. Sam Brownback’s advisory council pulled the plug on a quarterly report developed to assure timely analysis of the administration’s economic policies.
The Council of Economic Advisors chaired by Brownback will no longer compile and distribute a Kansas-specific review of economic markers picked by the administration and championed as an accountability test of its economic vision.
“A lot of people found them helpful, but a lot of people were confused by them,” said Nicole Randall, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Commerce.
Online publication of “Indicators of the Kansas Economy” was suspended during Brownback’s challenging re-election campaign in 2014 but remained available upon request from the commerce department. The agency, which staffs the economic advisory council, spiked the report after releasing what turned out to be the final edition in May.
At the next governor’s council meeting, perhaps in November, the group intends to focus on a report authored by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
“It includes similar aspects, including an independent and in-depth look at the state, region and national economic statistics that impact Kansas,” Randall said.
Absence of the state’s quarterly review was noticed by the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, which used the council’s report to advance tax policy conclusions contrary to those advocated by the governor. Heidi Holliday, executive director of the nonprofit center in Topeka, said the downplay and eventual demise of the council’s economic assessment tool was an attempt to minimize public exposure of weaknesses in Brownback’s program to build the state’s economy by exempting 330,000 businesses from the income tax and reducing individual state income tax rates.
“He specifically asked the council to hold him accountable through rigorous performance metrics,” she said. “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.”
During the 2016 election cycle, interest among Kansas business owners and political candidates appears to have grown for repeal of the tax exemption adopted in 2012 by the Republican-led Legislature and Brownback.
Both the monthly federal report and the defunct quarterly state report feature statistics on employment, unemployment, personal income and energy production.
The Federal Reserve document also takes into account home prices, manufacturing activity and exports. The state’s so-called IKE report followed population, gross state product, consumer price index, building permits, sales tax collections, private industry wages and number of private establishments.
House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan., said reliance on contents of both reports could be useful to Kansas government officials, including Brownback, in a quest for solutions to state budget problems and an economy lagging behind peer states in job growth.
“The missed revenue marks, missed job reports, missed projections shed light on his failed policies. I kind of find it a little ironic they chose to go to a federal government report after they blamed President Obama for our economic problems,” Burroughs said.
Six months after taking office in 2011, Brownback set up the Council of Economic Advisers with about 20 members drawn from business and industry. He said the council would be responsible for coordinating strategic economic development planning, evaluating state policies and agency performance, and researching Kansas’ tax competitiveness, regulatory structure and basic industries.
Brownback said comparing Kansas to a six-state region and the nation would offer timely determinations of whether “our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect.”
“Economic competitiveness requires a detailed understanding of regional, national and international economic conditions and trends,” Brownback said.
Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.