Utopia, Brownback-style, looks better from afar
The Kansas City Star
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is a rock star.
Kansans may have qualms about his tax policy, which favors tax cuts for people with higher incomes while strangling state services and asking lower-income citizens to pay more for food and essentials.
They may have heard frightening stories about the rocky beginnings of his KanCare experiment. (More about that in a minute).
But things usually look better from a distance. And in the deep red recesses of the Missouri capitol in Jefferson City, Kansas looks like the promised land.
Income tax dropping like a rock! Managed care for all in Medicaid! Brownback may even pull off a coup long coveted by some Missouri Republicans and dismantle the nonpartisan plan used to select the state’s judges.
“I have to give Governor Brownback a lot of credit,” Rep. Tim Jones, speaker of the Missouri House, volunteered in a news conference this week. “He has bold, ambitious, conservative leadership.”
No argument there.
The question is, where is he going? And do Missouri Republicans really want to follow him down a rabbit hole?
It appears some do.
A Senate committee last week heard testimony on three bills to cut the state’s corporate income tax, its individual income tax, or both. Depending on the bill, the damage to state revenues would range from $351 million to $1.1 billion a year.
“A response (to Kansas) is warranted, not just because somebody else is doing it, but because it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Republican from St. Louis County.
But is it?
Missouri’s corporate income tax already is very low. A 2010 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau placed it 44th among 50 states. If low income taxes were really the magnet some people contend, companies should have been flocking to Missouri all along.
The Missouri Budget Project, which advocates for a greater public investment in services and citizens, researched a number of studies and found most concluded that variations in corporate income tax rates aren’t usually a deciding factor in businesses’ decisions to choose one state over another.
Healthy and educated workers, transportation networks and proximity to customers play bigger roles. Great public schools and universities are strong economic drivers, and they are often among the first to be hit with budget cuts when state revenues fall short.
Another Brownbackian feat that Missouri Republicans are eyeing with approval is his privatization of Kansas’ Medicaid program. As of Jan. 1, three managed care companies were entrusted with the health needs of about 380,000 low-income, disabled and elderly Kansans. Republican lawmakers in Missouri are hinting that any hope of expanding the state’s Medicaid limits, as Gov. Jay Nixon wants, may hinge on a KanCare-like expansion of managed care in the Show Me State.
That may be a reasonable tradeoff. But Kansas’ rush to go that route has been rocky so far. Stories abound of citizens being denied services or being shuffled from one provider to another.
One is former Kansas City Star reporter Finn Bullers. He has muscular dystrophy and diabetes, and relies on a skilled nurse to visit his home twice a day to suction his airway. That service ended Dec. 21, in the runup to KanCare, and hasn’t resumed on a regular basis since, despite multiple efforts by Bullers, his wife and his physician to get things straightened out. At one point Bullers, who uses a respirator, was informed his new managed care company had determined he didn’t need skilled nursing.
As of Thursday, he was still trying to get matters resolved. Meanwhile, his wife, Anne, was adjusting her work schedule to keep up with the suctioning. On Monday, with Anne away from the house, Bullers had to call emergency personnel to respond in an ambulance to help him to breathe.
In a Facebook post, Bullers described his experience as “a wake-up call to all state policy makers who think the grand Kansas experiment will be the national model for competitively bid, managed-care programs for all.”
Are you listening, Missouri?
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at bshelly.