In a lengthy article last month (“Brownback says his changes in Kansas are a model for the nation”), The Kansas City Star reported that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
has rammed through massive income tax cuts, wiped away thousands of public sector jobs, and slashed spending for public broadcasting and social services. He squeezed four state agencies into other departments. He handed the state’s Medicaid program to private insurance companies. He’s taken thousands off welfare by rewriting the rules that once made them eligible for help.
The man is just getting started. Now, backed with a growing legislative majority of conservative Republicans, Brownback stands ready to amp up his remake of state government in Kansas. His unapologetically bold agenda, backed with mounting political power, makes Kansas a proving ground for a range of conservative theory.
“The way you change America is by changing the states,” Brownback is quoted as saying. “These are the sort of efforts that will bear fruit in our states and we’ll be able to use federally then as models for change.”
He’s right. Dr. David Brown, OCPA founding chairman, formed our organization because of his long-held belief that the federal government is morally, intellectually and financially bankrupt—and that solutions will have to come from the states.
“Perhaps no one is more pivotal in Brownback’s call to limit spending,” the Star adds, “than one of his first appointees, budget director Steve Anderson.” Mr. Anderson, an accountant, is a longtime OCPA research fellow who has written numerous articles and policy papers for us. One idea he proposed several years ago for Oklahoma is now a reality—in Kansas. Forbes writer Ralph Benko notes:
Brownback’s state budget director, Steve Anderson, is pioneering a method of accounting that holds government programs accountable for their cost-effectiveness—just like private sector companies have to be. He’s posted it to the Kansas Budget Director’s Office website for the world to emulate. This is revolutionary.
And that’s not the only national attention Mr. Anderson’s idea has received. As former Oklahoma finance director Tom Daxon explained to the readers of The Washington Examiner, “current accounting reviews tell us little about the actual cost of services and even less about whether those services actually accomplished their goals.” But Kansas “has introduced a dramatic new approach to report the costs and benefits of state programs. The effort’s early success helped give Kansas legislators the resolve to enact the biggest tax cut in state history, while balancing the budget. Kansas reduced 4,000 bureaucratic positions—mostly by attrition—and turned a half-billion-dollar deficit into a half-billion-dollar surplus.”
Mr. Daxon, who also has written extensively on this subject for OCPA, says the key is to “insist that actual goals be established for each program and then measure progress toward those goals, both in terms of cost and effectiveness. … Then when opponents ask, ‘Which programs do you suggest we cut?’ the answer would be, ‘Those that aren’t meeting their goals.’ Or, ‘Those whose benefits don’t justify the cost.’”
It’s a shame that common sense is now considered “revolutionary.” But here’s hoping Oklahoma’s political leaders will follow Kansas’s lead and implement this revolutionary Cost Management System in our state. Doing so will help realize Gov. Mary Fallin’s vision of lower taxes and right-sized, effective government.