Will Kansas Voters Choose to Continue Their Governor’s Economic Experiments?

By Andrea Flynn |

In the past four years, Governor Brownback has brought radical tax cuts to Kansas, and the gubernatorial election will show if Kansans approve of the result. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

Kansas governor Sam Brownback – one of the most conservative leaders in the nation – is in a close fight to prevent State Representative Paul Davis (D) from taking his seat. Four years ago Brownback took office with hopes of making Kansas a “real, live experiment” to create a mid-western conservative utopia. He has slashed business regulations; privatized Medicaid delivery; cut taxes for the wealthy; and practically eliminated income taxes, a move that Mother Jones recently described as putting the state into “cardiac arrest.”

The Kansas City Star recently wrote that Brownback’s dream is far from a reality. Since his radical tax cuts took effect “31 other states have added jobs at a faster clip than Kansas,” state revenue is hundreds of millions less than expected, and Kansas’ public services – particularly K-12 education – are seriously imperiled. And as a result, Brownback’s leadership is also in peril. Recent polls have the two candidates virtually tied. The victor on Tuesday will dramatically influence a number of important issues in Kansas, perhaps none more than those that have a disproportionate impact on women and their families. And the candidates couldn’t be further apart on those issues.

Where do women in Kansas stand?

As we described in our analysis of the Kansas Senate race, women in that state face high rates of poverty, un- and underemployment, and a persistent wage gap. Many still lack insurance coverage, suffer from a lack of paid sick and family leave, and have an unmet need for quality, affordable health care, particularly reproductive healthcare. Kansas is not participating in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leaving nearly 80,000 adults currently uninsured, half of whom are women, who would have otherwise qualified. Kansas is also the only state in the country that saw its uninsured rate significantly increase in the last year.

Where do the candidates stand?

Affordable Care Act

Governor Brownback has refused federal funds to participate in Medicaid expansion under the ACA, and signed a bill that devolved the authority for Medicaid expansion to the legislature, where hell might freeze over before one of the main pillars of President Obama’s signature policy achievement is fulfilled. This move has guaranteed that even if Davis wins, Kansas is unlikely to see an expansion of Medicaid anytime soon, even though 52 precent of Kansans are in support of it. Forty-one percent have said that Brownback’s failure to expand Medicaid would make them less likely to vote for him.

Davis has said that expanding Medicaid is “the right thing” for Kansas to do.

 

Family Planning

Under Brownback’s leadership, Kansas passed a law in 2011 blocking all federal Title X family planning funds to clinics and other entities providing abortions, drastically limiting financial support for Planned Parenthood and other providers. 

Paul Davis has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

 

Abortion

Kansas has passed a number of restrictions on abortion, much of it under Brownback’s leadership, including, among other restrictions, a 24-hour waiting period; state-directed counseling; the requirement that an optional rider must be purchased at additional cost for abortion coverage in private insurance; the prohibition of telemedicine for medication abortions; parental consent for a minor; and an ultrasound requirement. Many of these requirements were passed in an omnibus bill, KS HB 2253, in April 2013 and are currently being challenged in two different lawsuits.

Brownback is one of the country’s staunchest abortion opponents. In his 2014 State of the State address, he went so far as to equate recent anti-abortion protests with the abolitionist movement and abortion with slavery (he was later criticized roundly for it).

Davis’s record on abortion is mixed but he is seen as largely pro-choice, and was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. He has voted for a state requirement that abortion providers report the medical basis for their determination to perform an abortion to the Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment, but he has voted against a number of other state restrictions, including a state ban on so-called partial birth abortion and the 2013 bill, KS HB 2253.

Minimum wage and the social safety net

In 2007 and 2009, while serving as U.S. Senator (1996-2011), Brownback voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (meant to restore protections against pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion, or disability). Under Brownback’s leadership, 15,000 people have been kicked off welfare rolls. He also cut child tax credits, eliminated tax rebates for food and rent that had been aimed at the poorest residents, cut taxes for the rich and raised them for the poor, and changed the state’s food stamp rules, pushing 20,000 unemployed Kansans out of the program.

There is no public information on Paul Davis’s stance on these issues.

 

Economy

Brownback stands by his sweeping income tax cuts. “The state’s economy is good and growing,” Brownback said recently. “Overall, this economy in this state is performing well.” The Kansas City Star reported that the state has seen “more robust growth in private-sector employment since Brownback took office in January 2011.” In the past few years the state gained more than 70,000 private sector jobs and its gross domestic product rose by 6.1 percent, a bit more than the United States overall. However, the paper also pointed out that “Kansas’ private-sector job growth was less robust than the nation’s as a whole … And the state’s private-sector job growth slowed after the tax cuts took effect in 2013 and has been about half the national figure since December 2012.” Additionally, unemployment rates have fallen less than in neighboring states, while payrolls have increased less. More people moved out of the state than moved in, and the tax cuts are blamed for the massive cuts in education spending – the state spent $100 million less on schools in 2014 than in 2009. But it appears as though Brownback would stay the course if re-elected.

Davis has argued that Brownback’s economic policies are a “failed ideological experiment that is bleeding state government while endangering public education and many other services.” But Davis is reluctant to say what policies he would put into place to address the state’s economic woes. He recently said that he is “spending a lot of time talking to business leaders and community leaders about how they believe we ought to grow the economy.”

Read the rest of this series here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, where she researches and writes about issues that impact women and families. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Cosmopolitan, Salon, The Hill, and Women’s eNews. You can follow Andrea on Twitter @dreaflynn.