Kansas vs. California
Texas is straying from a pro-business model that brought us so much success.
June 16, 2017
“What’s the matter with Kansas?”
Thomas Frank posed that question in his 2004 book that delved into the phenomena of blue-collar Kansans voting against their immediate economic self-interest.
Here in Texas, however, plenty of Republican politicians would probably be quick to point out everything right with Kansas. Their amber waves look an awful lot like our open prairie. And their governor, Sam Brownback, sounded an awful lot like one of our own after he cut taxes by nearly $4 billion to promote business and stimulate growth.
Don’t be so quick to praise the Sunflower State. Even the folks in Kansas don’t want to look like Kansas anymore. The only businesses the tax cut helped were firms involved in a lawsuit over unconstitutionally low school spending. Some Kansas school districts even had to reduce schedules down to a four-day week to save money. Meanwhile, the state economy ended up stuck in neutral – 0.2 percent growth in 2016. Brownback became one of the most unpopular governors in the nation. And, over his veto, a Republican state legislature actually voted to raise taxes.
It turns out that residents and businesses alike want the government to provide key services, and taxes are the only way to raise the money.
Meanwhile, that boogieman of Texas politics – California – has started to eclipse the Lone Star State on plenty of economic indicators.
That’s not what Republicans in Austin would predict after California’s across-the-board tax increases in 2012 and a recent $5 billion hike in gas tax and car registration fees. Apparently taxes aren’t the end-all, be-all of economic growth.
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As Chronicle business reporter Lydia DePillis wrote earlier this month, California’s economy grew faster than Texas’ last year – 2.9 percent vs. 0.4 percent. Their unemployment rate is better than ours – 4.8 percent vs. 5.0 percent. California has the second-best economy in the nation, according to personal finance site Wallethub, while Texas is at 20th.
Of course, these economic indicators probably have as much to do with the tech boom in the Bay Area as it does with the oil industry suffering from weak prices. And it doesn’t mean we should start a F-150 caravan on Interstate 10 toward California. However, it does mean that we need to remember the Texas model that brought us so much success, which involves a pro-business agenda and respecting local control. Yes, businesses want lower taxes and fewer regulations, but they also support investing in schools, universities and infrastructure, and welcoming anyone who is willing to work hard.
The last legislative session, and the upcoming special session, betray that Texas model. Pro-discrimination and anti-immigration legislation reached the governor’s desk. A mantra of local control has been silenced by Gov. Greg Abbott’s plans to override everything from municipal distracted driving laws to tree protection ordinances. Legislators have eagerly devoured our seed corn by refusing to fully fund K-12 schools and instead pushed the financial responsibility onto local property taxes – bad for homeowners and businesses alike. And 40 percent of four-year universities or system offices suffered from budget cuts. Businesses used to control the agenda in Austin – for better or worse. Now they might as well be Democrats.
Texas doesn’t have to be California to see economic success. But if legislators in Austin keep moving us closer to Brownback’s Kansas, it won’t be too long until people start asking, “What’s the Matter With Texas?”