A TALE OF TWO STATES: Walker's Wisconsin lags economically, just like Brownback's Kansas, but only Brownback is paying the price | WisCommunity

A TALE OF TWO STATES: Walker's Wisconsin lags economically, just like Brownback's Kansas, but only Brownback is paying the price

Both Wisconsin and Kansas have right-wing Republican freshman governors who have allied themselves with the tea party wing of the GOP and have pushed supply-side, trickle-down economics. Soon after attaining power, each of them cut taxes and slashed state spending, biting deeply into education aids, the social safety net and other programs. Result: Both states have maintained consistently sluggish growth ever since those governors -- Scott Walker and Sam Brownback -- took office.

Take a look at the accompanying two graphs (if they're too small for you to see here, go to the links below for full-sized versions and accompanying texts). These paired graphs show job performance in, respectively, Kansas and Wisconsin, each compared to the nation as a whole between 2011 and now. The Wisconsin chart shows state performance in red, compared to national numbers in grey, and is produced from an interactive map developed by Madison's Capital Times newspaper. The Kansas graph shows Kansas performance in purple.

Ironically, as bad as Wisconsin and Kansas both are, the Jayhawk state did noticeably better than Wisconsin in all of 2013, ranking 19th among all states in job creation while Wisconsin helped to bring up the nation's rear at number 37.

The graphed trends of the states are nevertheless fairly similar overall. Both states lag the national norm in job growth since 2011. Wisconsin has been doing a little better than Kansas since Brownback enacted a series of tax cuts in 2012. After that, Jayhawk job growth flattened noticeably. For April and May, Kansas predicted revenues of $651 million from the state personal income tax. Instead, the state collected only $369 million.

Walker's own second round of tax cuts totaling $500 million came two years later than in Kansas but deficits are expected to come along here, as well. The state Revenue Department's projections show a Wisconsin state budget deficit of $642 million in the remainder of the current two-year budget cycle, with most of the damage coming after this fall's election.

With less money coming in, both Kansas and Wisconsin persist in doing less and less to fund the social safety net and -- especially -- public education. Numerous critics here in Wisconsin previously have noted the misery that Walker's austerity and tax cuts have caused. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Center on Budget Policy Priorities studied the Kansas revenue and program cuts earlier this year. The study's authors concluded that:

"Kansas is a cautionary tale, not a model. As other states recover from the recent recession and turn toward the future, Kansas’ huge tax cuts have left that state’s schools and other public services stuck in the recession, and declining further — a serious threat to the state’s long-term economic vitality. Meanwhile, promises of immediate economic improvement have utterly failed to materialize."

Of course, the authors could have been writing about Wisconsin. The parallels are, in fact, uncanny. But that's what happens when you apply fantasy-land economic models with the claimed purpose of trying to fix laggard job growth: Most everything gets worse, not better. Every month brings fresh economic news that further validates independent findings in both states. Job creation in Kansas has remained flat since last fall, even as employment increased in the rest of the country. And that's largely true in Wisconsin, too.

While the two states are very similar economically right now, and while the two governors are very similar in their policies, there are three curious differences in the circumstances of Brownback and Walker:

1. Brownback is, surprisingly, trailing badly among rock-red Kansas voters in early polling as he seeks a second term in November. Brownback registers only 41% against his Democratic Party challenger Paul Davis, who has 47% support. The Survey USA poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

2. The national media haven't quite yet noticed that Wisconsin's economic malaise is as bad if not worse as what Kansas has been going through. And for that matter, neither have many mainstream news outlets here in Badgerland.

3. Walker, unlike Brownback, has been through two major criminal investigations, one of which led to convictions of some of his former staff members and the other of which is pending. You'd think that would depress his poll numbers. We'll have to wait and see. Democratic strategists appear intent on focusing like a laser on the poor economy, which isn't a bad bet, but so far Walker is mostly skating on that issue. Meanwhile he's playing the victim card in the Doe investigation, while proclaiming his "exoneration" in an investigation that isn't yet complete nor has yet gotten to the point where charges might be filed, mostly because conservatives have sued to quash the probe before its completion.

The national press corps has noticed Walker's troubles with the John Doe probe, but it remains to be seen how badly if at all that affects his standing in Wisconsin election polls. Meanwhile, the press corp hasn't yet quite noticed that Walker presides over his own version of Brownback's increasingly dysfunctional Kansas. Brownback is another teahadist in trouble. Maybe too many here in Wisconsin are die-hard optimists, or living in that infamous alternate reality the GOP has so painstakingly constructed.


June 27, 2014 - 5:09pm