It’s safe to say that if Kansas’s Gov. Sam Brownback or any of the state’s ultraconservative legislators had been in fictional astronaut Mark Watney’s place (“The Martian“), they would have never survived the 543 sols that Watney spent stranded on Mars before being rescued. It’s doubtful they would have even made it back to the Hab in the first place after inadvertently being left for dead in the middle of the fateful sandstorm that drove the crew to abandon their mission. Survival depended on logically assessing the situation at hand and subsequently deciding on a course of action based on empirical evidence, sound scientific, engineering and even economic principles, and best practices. These aren’t key strengths of Brownback or ultraconservative legislators.
And in this case they would have essentially been responsible for creating the sandstorm that forced the astronaut team to flee Mars to begin with. Kansas is experiencing a massive “lack of revenue” storm created by the income tax cuts of 2012 and 2013, seriously jeopardizing the state’s future and quality of life for Kansans across the state. Everything from transportation infrastructure to public education are struggling to stay upright in the gale-force winds of the income tax cuts. Some Kansans are fleeing the state as if having been given the order to abandon the mission, though most fight to survive in this increasingly hostile environment.
For Kansas, a better protagonist would be the Kansas Center for Economic Growth(KCEG), a nonpartisan organization with a much better grasp of economics and the use of empirical evidence to guide their policy recommendations. Executive director Annie McKay, senior fellow Duane Goossen and others at the KCEG are far better prepared to “science the shit out of this,” rescuing themselves and the rest of us from the desolation of the Kansas economic landscape being wrought by the “lack of revenue” storm.
In their recent report, “Kansas Public Education: The Foundation for Economic Growth,” the KCEG effectively demonstrates a) the short- and long-term benefits of a strong public education system (everything from reduced public healthcare costs to the attraction and retention of workers/businesses), b) that K-12 education is an economic driver in Kansas with a significant return on investment and c) that K-12 public education is currently underfunded (and under threat) in the state of Kansas.
To address this, KCEG makes the following two policy recommendations to provide better support for Kansas public education and subsequently provide broader economic prosperity across the state:
- Repeal the unaffordable income tax changes to generate revenue and invest in schools.
- Replace the inadequate block grant with an equitable school funding formula that accounts for what it actually costs to educate and prepare students for life after high school.
KCEG’s report and policy recommendations are based on solid economic and education third-party research, their own data analyses (conducted by qualified individuals in an objective manner) and conversations with business, community and school leaders from across the state. Contrast this with the ideological zealotry of the Brownback administration, their ultraconservative legislative allies and organizations like the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI), who’ve been standing firm on the tax cuts, regardless of what the short- and long-term impacts on public services and Kansans will be.
Of course if one assumes the goal is to significantly reduce the role and size of state government, and to correspondingly increase a) the burden on the individual (subscribing to the myth of the self-made “man”) as well as b) privatization, particularly for public education which composes the majority of the state’s budget, then the tax cuts are working. Unfortunately, they’ll eventually turn Kansas’s economy into a something resembling the desolate Martian landscape.
KCEG’s report partially demonstrates from one economic perspective why such a view of the world, when actualized into public policy, doesn’t work, except for those at the top of the financial food chain. KCEG rightly points out that the tax revenues devoted to state-provided services, such as transportation infrastructure, public education and healthcare, to name a few, are in actuality investments in some very “powerful economic development tools” available to Kansas (and other states).
Looking just at public education, according to KCEG’s analysis, “[e]ach dollar invested in public schools reaps a $2.62 return…” that benefits all Kansans in terms of the quality of our workforce, the earning (and spending) power of graduates, reduced healthcare costs, reduced crime control costs and reduced welfare costs. The return on investment we all receive from the taxes that generate these much-needed revenues, regardless of whether one receives a direct or indirect benefit (i.e., people without children or who were home-schooled also benefit from a well-educated citizenry) doesn’t fit the ultraconservative narrative of a free market utopia with little government involvement and individuals solely responsible for their successes and misfortunes.
And the wealthy do typically gain more than everyone else under such a system – they keep more of their wealth with reduced taxes and are able to supplement with their own resources any reduction in government services, such as sending their kids to private schools. They often benefit from the increased privatization that occurs if they are financially involved in the private entities who provide the services. Those investments relative to business growth are also focused on their own interests, and therefore the greater economic benefits are more localized and smaller relative to the benefits and services that were displaced through shrinking government. Trickle-down is an apt term – it typically is just a trickle (if that) relative to the population at large.
Research in other disciplines strongly support this as well. Continuing with the theme of wanting to “science the shit out of this,” let’s take a look at what research from the intersection of biology, behavior, economics and the social sciences have to say (see “Evolution: This View of Life” as well as the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization Special Issue on Evolution as a General Theoretical Framework for Economics and Public Policy for a jumping-off point into this research).
Read the rest of the article at Salon.com