Brownback’s Austerity, and Its Devastating Effects on Kansas’ Working Poor

Sam Brownback made a commitment in 2011: to serve the state of Kansas as its governor. It was a commitment to all who live in the state, rich and poor alike. But many of Brownback's promises to the state's poor residents have been broken.

Sam Brownback made a commitment in 2011: to serve the state of Kansas as its governor. It was a commitment to all who live in the state, rich and poor alike.

While campaigning, he made specific promises to the children of Kansas, pledging to make their lives better and offering them the hope of opportunity. As he wrote in his “Road Map for Kansas,” [T]o those Kansas children who live in poverty and despair, please hear this message—the hope and promise of Kansas is not lost. So long as we firmly believe in opportunity, accountability, and responsibility, hope and promise will never be lost.” He goes on to promise, as part of a five-point commitment, to “[d]ecrease … the percentage of Kansas’ children who live in poverty.”

His expectation was that these promises would be fulfilled via the drastic reduction and eventual elimination of state income taxes, a move tailored to benefit the state’s top earners. As the Kansas City Star reported in June, Brownback told a group of business leaders at the time, “We’re on a path of growth and job creation, so I say, ‘Come to Kansas.’ … We’re paving the way to make Kansas the best place in America to raise a family and run a business.”

I guess the families to which the governor refers are not families living in poverty, as his promises have translated, in reality, to devastating blows to poor citizens’ survival. As a recent Wichita Eagle editorial notes:

  • The number of adoptions in the state is at a six-year low.
  • There are near-record numbers of children entering the foster care system.
  • The number of families receiving cash assistance has been cut nearly in half.
  • Work requirements for child care assistance have been increased by 50 percent.
  • There’s been a 20 percent reduction in the amount of time people may receive federal welfare benefits.

Meanwhile, Kansas has one of the lowest food stamp participation rates in the nation.

What then about that promised economic growth? Major employers are laying off workers in the state, and there’s been no word of new corporations storming the state borders with job offers. It would seem that the only growth to be had in Kansas is the growing number of people losing their children, possibly due to tightened restrictions for cash assistance and child care assistance. The Brownback administration has even had the audacity to suggest that reducing child care subsidies will “encourage people to work harder.”

It is apparent that many of Brownback’s promises have been broken. His utopian vision for Kansas is merely an illusion presented by the great and powerful wizard in the governor’s mansion. To be fair, Gov. Brownback isn’t the first politician to break a promise, but breaking a promise to children? Well, that’s pretty low, even by the standard of modern politicians.

But facts are facts. According to recent data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one in five Kansas children are living in poverty. “Kansas is moving in the wrong direction, despite the governor’s stated commitment to reducing childhood poverty in his ‘Roadmap for Kansas,'” Kansas Action for Children CEO Shannon Cotsoradis said in a statement released in conjunction with the report. “This is a problem we can no longer wait to address. The governor has one year left in his first term and has yet to realize his vision.”

One truth that is being realized under Brownback’s policies is the failure of trickle-down economics. The people of Kansas see this truth, and other states are too. “The Kansas experiment” stands as a lesson for the state’s neighbors of what not to do. States with low state taxes can’t provide adequate government services—even elemental ones, like funding public education. That’s why Kansas kids have seen the amount of per-pupil state education funds decrease by hundreds of dollars over the past several years, and why the state is being sued for this inadequate funding. The judges in that case had some harsh words, as reported by the Wichita Eagle: “It appears to us the only certain result from the tax cut will be a further reduction of existing resources available and from a cause, unlike the ‘Great Recession’ which had a cause external to Kansas, that is homespun, hence, self-inflicted.”

These self-inflicted wounds upon our state aren’t so much “self-inflicted” as they’re “Brownback-inflicted,” and they are further compounded by the the efforts of Republicans in Washington and the results of the sequester. Add to that the governor’s refusal to allow for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act—despite Kansas currently having one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the nation—and it paints a very bleak future for the working poor of Kansas.

Gov. Brownback did keep his promise to one group of Kansans: He promised to sign every piece of anti-choice legislation that crossed his desk. If only he held his other promises in such high regard.