“Look out, Texas. Here comes Kansas!” So said Gov. Sam Brownback in this year’s State of the State address.
The governor looks down south and sees Kansas’ future. Brownback particularly admires Texas’ lack of a personal income tax: his goal for our state. I am skeptical. Despite frozen weather, it is Minnesota that stands out in most quality-of-life surveys, finishing No. 3 in the recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
Which state should be our guide? Let’s go to the numbers. First come the costs. According to the Tax Foundation, the total per capita state and local tax cost for Texans in 2010 was $3,104 or 7.9 percent of income. Kansas’ figures are $3,802 and 9.7 percent, and Minnesotans pay $4,727, or 10.8 percent. The average-income Minnesotan shells out $1,623 more in state and local taxes each year than his or her counterpart in Texas, with Kansas in between. Is it worth it?
Brownback promises that Texas-sized tax cuts will grow our economy. By this logic, Minnesota’s tax “burden” should be detrimental. The numbers tell a different story. Minnesota’s per capita income, at $43,790, is a good deal higher than either Texas’ ($39,142), or Kansas’ ($39,389). And growth? From 2000 to 2010, per capita income in Texas grew by 26 percent, narrowly edging out Minnesota’s 24 percent. Kansas outshines both states, with a 31-percent growth rate. Minnesota wins hands-down for per capita income, Kansas for growth, and Texas for neither. In fact, the average Minnesotan takes home more money after paying state and local taxes: $39,063 in Minnesota, $36,038 in Texas, and $35,587 in Kansas.
What does all this money buy? One thing is health care, and the gap is vast. One in four Texans has no health insurance (at 24.6 percent, that’s the highest percentage in the nation. Minnesota approaches the other end of the spectrum at 9 percent. Only Hawaii and Massachusetts have lower percentages of uninsured. Kansas comes up in between, at 13 percent. Furthermore, Minnesotans literally live two and a half years longer than Kansas or Texans. Average life expectancy is 80.9 years for Minnesota, 78.4 years for Kansas, and 78.3 for Texas.
Which state lights the way for schooling? According to the U.S. Census, 80.4 percent of Lone Star State residents graduated from high school, 26.1 percent hold bachelor’s degrees or higher (both lower than national averages). Minnesota blows those numbers away with 91.6 percent high-school grads, 31.8 percent bachelor’s or higher (among the nation’s highest). Kansas’ numbers are respectable, too with 89.5 percent and 29.7 percent. On the other hand, Texas incarcerates a quarter million of its own people. For every 100,000 Texans, 632 are in prison. The comparable statistic for Kansas is just more than half that: 324 per 100,000. Minnesota almost halves the numbers again: 183 per 100,000. On a per-capita basis, Texas has 3 1/2 times as many of its own residents in prisons as does Minnesota; twice as many as Kansas.
The numbers tell a starkly different story than this year’s State of the State address. Brownback prefers to mess with Texas. As for me, when it comes to benchmarking state and local policy, I’ll be listening for the news from Lake Wobegon.
Michael A. Smith is an associate professor in the political science department at Emporia State University and a member of the “Insight Kansas” writing group.