AVERAGE: In a recent study of economic freedom in North America, Kansas ranked in the middle of the pack nationwide, but trails most surrounding states.
By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — The Sunflower State scored middle of the pack in a recent study of economic freedom in North America, and while policy analysts say Kansas is trending in the right direction, the state still has some ground to cover.
Breaking down the data released last month by the Canada-based Fraser Institute, an independent, nonpartisan research and educational organization, Dave Trabert, president of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, said the state’s black eye is starkly presented in the numbers.
“In terms of what Kansas needs to do to improve, it’s pretty clear, you start from the bottom,” Trabert said. “The biggest thing it can do is deal with the fact that we have a lot more government in Kansas than we need, and this is just one of the latest (studies) to point that out.”
The Fraser report looked at things such as how much the government contributes to the overall state economy and workforce, levels of tax revenue, minimum wage laws and labor union density, among other factors.
Kansas ranked in the second-highest quartile in terms of economic freedom based on data collected from 2011. While that’s encouraging, the fact loses some of its luster when you consider that the only surrounding state to rank lower was Missouri. Oklahoma ranked 17th out of all states, compared to Kansas’ 23rd place ranking. Nebraska and Colorado joined Delaware, Texas, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, Georgia, Utah and Illinois to be named the 10 “most free” states.
Trabert said based on a review of census data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kansas saw a 21.5 percent increase in population between 1980 and 2011, while at that same time local government employment has increased 62.7 percent.
“It’s kind of across the board,” he said. “Kansas, the structure itself, we have a lot more government than most states.”
Only looking at cities, counties and townships, Trabert said, nationwide the average is about 8,066 residents per government. In Kansas, that figure is significantly lower, clocking in at around 1,445 state residents per government – and that’s not even counting school districts or numerous other, smaller government entities. Kansas’ figures are five times the national average.
While the study knocks Kansas for its 2011 tax rates, Gov. Sam Brownback‘s tax plan signed into law the following year, which decreases income tax rates, will likely improve the state’s placement in future studies.
Still, the rankings of surrounding states give Trabert cause for concern.
“People have been voting with their feet for a long time, and that’s going to continue to happen,” he told Kansas Watchdog.
It’s a trend that was revealed in even greater clarity last year, when an analysis of IRS and U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that Texas, Florida, Colorado and other low-tax states were veritable magnets for cash exiting Kansas.
“It all comes down to how much you spend,” Trabert said. “The more government you have, the more government spends, the more you have to tax people.”
The least free states, according to the Fraser Institute study, are Vermont, New Mexico, West Virginia, Mississippi, Maine, Kentucky, Montana, Arkansas, Hawaii and Rhode Island.
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