Kansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin–and Minnesota

If I were Dorothy, I wouldn’t take Toto back to Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback has doggedly (no pun intended!) pursued right-wing economic nostrums with devastating results.

Despite Brownback’s insistence that his massive tax cuts will translate into a booming state economy any day now, budget shortfalls have threatened to force layoffs of prison guards and massive cuts to public schools, health care providers and nursing homes, among others. A report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out that Kansas was one of only five states across the country that actually lost jobs in the last six months. As a result of all this, the Kansas legislature has reluctantly raised taxes (albeit not on those rich “job creators”– mostly just the regressive ones).

Then there’s Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, where state lawmakers are preparing to dump Louisiana’s 1.6 billion dollar fiscal crisis on the next governor and legislature. Among other disasters, Jindal has presided over the biggest legislative downsizing ever faced by higher education in the U.S.  The president of the Louisiana State University system has announced that Louisiana State (LSU) will consider declaring financial exigency—the equivalent of bankruptcy for academic institutions–and that as many as a dozen campuses throughout Louisiana could ultimately have to do the same.

Moving on to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Budget Project reports that the state’s cuts to education since the start of the recession– the 7th largest in the country–  deepened the recession, slowed the recovery, and are likely to make Wisconsin less prosperous in the future. Walker and legislative Republicans voted to cut 250 million dollars from the University of Wisconsin’s budget (in a gratuitous addition, they also voted to eliminate the state’s tenure laws, virtually guaranteeing an exodus of scholars from what was once one of the most prestigious public universities in the country.) Other shortfalls have halted highway construction and reduced health care access for the needy, and job creation has remained anemic.

Then there’s Minnesota. When Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton took office in 2011, the state had a $6 billion plus deficit and an unemployment rate of 7%. Minnesota’s unemployment rate is now below 4% and the state boasts a budget surplus of over $1.2 billion dollars. On taking office, Dayton raised taxes on the wealthy; more recently, he signed a bill raising the state’s minimum wage–policies that are anathema to the right wingers in Kansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

Gov. Dayton stayed true to his campaign promise to ask everyone to in Minnesota to pay their fair share in taxes–including rich corporations and CEOs. It doesn’t appear to have deterred businesses operations there; a recent analysis shows Minnesota is among the top five fastest growing state economies and private-sector job creation exceeds pre-recession levels.

After committing half of the resulting revenue to balancing the budget (as required by the state constitution) Dayton and allies invested nearly three-quarters of the remaining funds in public education, with a focus on all-day kindergarten and expanding access to early childhood education.

Minnesota has also broadened access to health care, expanding Medicaid, and–according to the New York Times– keeping premiums in its insurance exchange among the lowest in the country (and well below premiums in Wisconsin).

The comparisons to Wisconsin are particularly telling because the two states share similar climates, populations with German and Northern European roots, farming communities, and (at least before Walker) populist progressive political cultures.

Policy choices matter.

Trusting in what George H.W. Bush called “voodoo economics” is a lot like trusting your operation to a surgeon whose last hundred patients died during the procedure he’s recommending.


  1. “Despite Brownback’s insistence that his massive tax cuts will translate into a booming state economy any day now”

    Despite Indy’s insistence that billions of tax dollars spent on the Indianapolis Downtown will cause Indianapolis to spark and become a thriving city, Downtown Indianapolis is a failure that only sees new development when the taxpayers pay for it. Downtown Indianapolis has hemmed itself in on at least three sides and has closed off the expansion of Downtown with low rise developments that would be found in other cities’ suburbs.

    Despite decades of promises that public funding of Indianapolis would make the city a booming area, far most of what resides in the city limits of Indianapolis is a crumbling failure.

    Kansas and Indianapolis are bad-weather landlocked places overshadowed by more interesting places nearby, so what the governments of such places do will only be so effective.

  2. One would think that a rational person would look at the experiences of Kansas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin and think, “Those policy choices didn’t work out very well.” But then again, for many in this country (not limited to Republicans) their philosophy is, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”

  3. I’m glad tenure is being discontinued. That was a perk some very well paid government employees gave themselves. Nobody in the private sector has a guaranteed job.

  4. Bill; your only mistake was that term, “One would think…” Thinking is a lost art here or we wouldn’t be in the sad condition we face daily. The 500 Mile Race was what drew people to this city for the entire month of May for many years; even that has changed and it has become big business along with all other sports venues in Indianapolis. Big business that needs tax payer assistance to continue. I understand there were many empty areas at the track this year, that is a sad commentary on an event that is part of our history.

  5. I don’t get this article. Outside of Texas, no parts of America are doing well.

    Wisconsin is all Milwaukee, and Milwaukee gets a decent number of Chicago dregs and others who bring parts of the Chicago lifestyle to Milwaukee. The metro areas of the two cities touch.

    Minnesota is all Twin Cities, but, in contrast, the Twin Cities is the whitest metropolitan area in the United States, so you have a mini-Europe going on up there.

    If government spending made a city great, Chicago wouldn’t be the financial disaster it is.

  6. The economics described for Kansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin (and Indiana)has killed economic development by making most consumers poorer; i.e. the equivalent of the states sawing themselves off at the knees. Time to acknowledge that a few billionaires only have a very limited impact. The very wealthy don’t seem to be able to preserve their wealth without subsidies from taxpayers, who as a result of lower wages are paying less in taxes (Indiana revenue shortfall) meaning that there is even less available for public programs and wealth subsidies. I wonder how much more we can cut from food stamps, medicaid and higher education so we can afford to update the Simon’s and Irsay’s private jets.

  7. First you have to understand the common good of the 99% is not on the Agendas of Walker, Brownback and Jindal. The first person or persons served are their Corporate Sponsors and/or Campaign Contributors. The states of LA, KS, and WI have no short term or long term commitment to the 99%. The 99% are expendable. The key and really only important goal for Jindal, Brownback, and Walker is that profit finds it way back into the pockets of their sponsors. If these states are looted – too bad so sad for the 99% as long the profits for 1% remain intact. Once all the profit is taken only the bones remain, and these scavengers will move on. Scavenger Capitalism is what this is.

    Indy Disaster I agree downtown Indy is an economic failure. Downtown is like a Hollywood facade, propped up by billions of dollars of corporate welfare. Again the only important goal is to ensure the 1% profit off of the 99%.

  8. Sheila, your excellent summary of the messes in Kansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin ought to be published in every newspaper in Indiana, because we’re on the same path, albeit at a slower pace.

    I would recommend one change, however. You state that the Kansas legislature has “reluctantly” raised taxes, although not of course
    reversing the tax cuts that have led the state to near-bankruptcy. Having a nasty, suspicious mind, I think that was probably the goal all along. Manufacturing a crisis that you then “fix” by transferring a larger share of the burden to the working and middle classes seems to be the GOP’s plan for corporate takeover of the country.

  9. We all want so to be right. We want to be right so much that we disbelieve that which must be, and believe that which must be, in the hope that our belief will be the outcome. We can will wrong to be right. The contrary facts staring us in the face are merely the conspiracy of _____________ (fill the blank) chipping away at the personal reality that would prove us right.

    We can all, in these times and places, find proof of our rightness. If we accept X’s opinions and reject Y’s there it is in black and white or color. We were right all along.

    So ladies and gentlemen, pick your sources and facts. We can all be right even when half are not.

    So stupid.

    If we’d like to be less so we have to let go of our culture, the observed behavior of those we believe to be like us, and engage our cognition.

    Who is not “like” me but is rationally credible through the evidence that they present? Who seems to have sources and analysis that more reliably predicts instead of interprets through their bias. Whose testimony can be connected over time from plans to results. Thoughts to reality.

    An example. Climate science. Al Gore. An early prophet. Not a scientist but one with faith in the scientific method. And concern for the future. He said here are the possibilities before we knew. What he predicted as possible has now shown up as real. Coincidence? Maybe. Let’s poke around at the preponderance of evidence from all sides. Being right going forward is so much more important than being right in the past.

    Don’t be cultural suckers. We can’t afford it.

  10. Indy Disaster–how many times do we have to rub your nose in your own poop to get you to stop dumping this load on our collective carpets? Austerity DOESN’T work; government spending is the ONLY way to smooth out the downturns in the economy for us working people, and it just makes you sound like Richard Pryor’s skit of the guy who gets caught by his wife while he’s in bed with his girl friend–‘who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes? Plus, all the ‘spending’ in Indianapolis is paid out to foreign (using the word as it applies to out of state) corporations and just more of the graft that has continued because of the entrenched one party rule in Indiana.

  11. HOW government funds are spent is as important as how much. Investing in capital infrastructure and education lights a path to future economic and intellectual capacity and growth.

    Instead Indiana and Indianapolis have invested in sports teams, concentrating wealth among a relative few millionaire players and owners. Sports teams were supposed to spur job growth. So why aren’t sports teams being funded by the proceeds of the economic growth they were supposed to generate?

    Instead we cut school funding every year for IPS while professional sports continue to receive taxpayer assistance long after they have become established in our community.

    During President Clinton’s administration, welfare laws were changed to cut off taxpayer assistance to incent recipients to get jobs and become self-sustaining. Why aren’t sport venues and teams also required to become self-sustaining? If we have to cut education funds to inner city children to fund professional sports, those sports are more expensive than we can afford.

  12. Indy Disaster: I’m not sure I understand your reference to Texas doing well; even better than the rest of the country.

  13. Indy Disaster- I live in Wisconsin and Wisconsin is not all Milwaukee. The cuts to the University system seem to be designed to hurt Madison (the capitol and home of the UW system’s biggest/most prestigious campus). Madison is consistently very liberal and very politically active. The worst part of what Walker has done is how he’s changed the political climate of the state. hen I first moved here 20+ years ago, I was amazed by the slow, deliberate and very active process of getting laws passed. Things took forever but everyone got their say. When we had republican governors, they tended to be moderate and listen to the progressives, when we had democratic governors they tended to listen to the conservatives. No one got their way all the time but everyone got their say.

    It was refreshing and pretty amazing. It’s one of the reasons no one was too worried when Walker was first elected- we all figured, “yeah, but this is Wisconsin, we do things differently.”

    Walker came in and pretty much said, “I only listen to the people who voted for me, the rest of you don’t matter.”

  14. “The cuts to the University system seem to be designed to hurt Madison”

    If Madison has been living a bloated lifestyle at the expense of the rest of the state, so what?

    “During President Clinton’s administration, welfare laws were changed to cut off taxpayer assistance to incent recipients to get jobs and become self-sustaining. Why aren’t sport venues and teams also required to become self-sustaining?”

    Wow. Really good point, Nancy.

    “Austerity DOESN’T work; government spending is the ONLY way to smooth out the downturns in the economy for us working people, ”

    That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen. People are drawing lavish paychecks while working for the government, far better than they could ever make in the private sector. The poor people are getting squeezed with sales taxes, license plate fees, gasoline taxes, income taxes, restaurant taxes all so the government class can get rich and have taxpayer-funded retirements. When the government isn’t getting rich, they’re handing out bloated subsidies to favored contractors, walking the tax dollars right out the door to make a rich guy even richer.

    We don’t need that kind of “government spending.” That’s like a 400 lb. guy boasting that he’s beating anorexia.

  15. Again, I use global warming as an example and a metaphor for general public confusion about who and what to assign credibility to.

    One of the more tireless researchers in the field is Dan Kahan of the Yale School of Law. He coined the term “cultural cognition” for the practice of thinking through culture.

    Here is a report of debate going on among academics about the most effective ways to sway public opinion given heavy doses of cultural cognition among the public.


    A thought from there:

    “You see, there are really two “climate changes” in America.”

    “There’s the one people “believe in” or “disbelieve in” solely for the purpose of expressing their allegiance in a mean, ugly, illiberal status competition between opposing cultural groups.”

    “Then there’s the one that people “believe in” in order to do things—like being a farmer—that depend on the best available scientific evidence.”

    Here are other thoughts, these from John Cook of http://skepticalscience.com


    Bottom line: we’re in the grip of a bad virus. Cultural cognition. Doctors like Dan Kahan and John Cook are working on a cure and while there’s progress to report no cure yet.

    It’s a race between the cure and death of everything American. Our cities, states, country and culture.

  16. Indy Disaster- Lavish paychecks? Have you looked at what city and state employees make a year? A tenured professor at a state university with 14 to 16 years to a PhD and many years of experience does not begin to make what they could earn in the private sector. Many of them do stay in academia because they do not want to have a private business owner who cares only about profit to themselves/clients or their shareholders calling the shots all the time. They also may love to teach and know that they are helping the next generation manage the mess they have been handed.
    Contribute to the conversation with real information.

  17. @Indy Disaster
    “People are drawing lavish paychecks while working for the government, far better than they could ever make in the private sector.”

    I can only speak in an anecdotal fashion regarding lavish paychecks for professionals in public jobs as opposed to their being in the private sector. My husband is an Oral Surgeon now employed by IU’s School of Dentistry as a Clinic Director for 4th year Dental students, in other words giving them hands-on experience with patients who opt to receive dental treatment at a reduced cost. His annual salary is slightly less than my last annual salary as a professional educator working with secondary level students, and we both know educators are not getting rich.

    On the other hand, until 10 years ago when he was involved in a nasty snowmobile accident and blew out his right shoulder, he maintained a solo private practice and earned, after meeting his payroll, seven times what he currently earns. No, not every university employee is receiving a lavish paycheck.

  18. “A tenured professor at a state university with 14 to 16 years to a PhD and many years of experience does not begin to make what they could earn in the private sector.”

    Nonsense, and you know it.

    The folks with degrees that could make more in the private sector are already there.

  19. lavish paychecks …

    Last week (I think Wednesday) The Diana Rheem Show
    was about TSA employee’s.

    Front Line staff (the ones you encounter going through
    Airport security) earn approx. $ 37,000.00 per annum.
    (as reported on the show)

  20. 37k is 17.74 bucks an hour. You could live on that in Indiana/Indy. As long as you were single, no kids, lived in your own home and had your vehicle paid for. That income would pay rent/mortgage, utilities, food, car insurance, health care and if you’re savvy, a vacation once a year. And. That. IS. IT.

    That’s 712 bucks a week BEFORE TAXES.

    (Oh, I worked for city government, it was a good paying job with benefits but you could nearly double your pay in the private sector for the same job).

  21. Sure they do. I did IT work which for most places is part of the departmental makeup of any company.

  22. After reading the comments thus far I have come to the conclusion that “Indy Disaster” is a very well chosen and self describing name. ‘Nuff said.

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