The great Kansas comeback

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography

I am a fiercely proud native Kansan and believe two things to the core of my being: That Kansas is the greatest state in the nation and that Kansans are good people. When historians reflect on Kansas, they always seem to make note of a unique, collective mindset among its people. We’ve been described as optimistic. We’ve been called relentlessly stubborn and self-reliant…which is sort of a prerequisite for pioneers if you ask me. Some say we’re born fighters with unwavering conviction and endurance.

With these core beliefs and characteristics in mind, I’ve worked my whole career to shape policies and services that help Kansans. So, in December 2012 I became the executive director of the then-new Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG). Whether running marathons or biking to raise money for charity, I am not afraid of an uphill climb or going the distance. And my experience leading KCEG was an exercise in perseverance and commitment to the long-game to save my state.

”I believe two things to the core of my being: That Kansas is the greatest state in the nation and that Kansans are good people.

You see, my coming to KCEG coincided with passage of unprecedented and unaffordable tax policy changes that ultimately crippled the state. The impact of the extreme changes took a few years to be fully realized. But as revenue dropped, lawmakers raided every possible source of money until there was nothing left. Since then, the state has received three credit downgrades, racked up record-high debt, and made nine rounds of budget cuts to critical investments.

By 2016, people were reeling from the damaging impact of the tax cuts: state workers had lost their jobs, and payments to their retirement accounts had been delayed; some school districts shortened school weeks or years to make ends meet; bridges and roads were passed over for maintenance, and contractors laid workers off because the state postponed or cancelled projects; and fewer students could afford to go to college because tuition had increased so steeply at state schools.

During that same time, state-budget-director-turned-KCEG-Senior-Fellow, Duane Goossen and I traveled the state speaking with everyday Kansans, community leaders, superintendents, and business owners about the importance of the state’s ability to pay its bills and meet the needs of its people. KCEG talked with reporters and used social media to help Kansans digest the damage wreaked by the tax cuts and outline what it would take to right Kansas’ fiscal ship, repair the damage, and rebuild our state. Kansans took this new understanding to the ballot box, and in 2016, they sent nearly a third of the legislature newly elected to tackle tax reform.  

In December 2016 I had a chance to tell the “Kansas story” to a national audience: 

The people of Kansas are ready to do the hard work to fix the mess that is our state budget and put us back on a path to prosperity. Now the president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, I look forward to joining forces with KCEG and others to make comprehensive tax reform a reality in 2017.

You can follow Annie McKay on Twitter @amckayKS


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