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Here’s Hoping Kansas’ Failed Experiment Teaches the National GOP a Lesson

June 8, 2017

As noted in many earlier posts over the past six years, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s theory of trickle down economics, based on the failed supply-side economics, was leading to the demise of public education and effective government in that state. After six years of austerity and no growth whatsoever in the State’s economy, the GOP legislature passed a budget that undid his misbegotten tax cuts and increased spending by $1.2 billion over the next two years. Brownback vetoed their budget, but, as the NYTimes reported today, the legislature, “fed up with gaping budget shortfalls, inadequate education funding and insufficient revenue”, overrode the veto. The question is: will this rebuke of the supply side in Kansas set the stage for abandonment of this policy in other states and— especially– at the national level.

As reported in the Times article, when Brownback was elected he pushed for deep tax cuts and a host of other “hard right” bills that sailed through the GOP legislature.

Most famously, he instituted the largest income tax cuts in Kansas history, a move that he promised would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy.”

All along, Mr. Brownback has been steadfast in his insistence that the sweeping tax cuts he had championed were sound, smart policy that would fuel growth. Kansas began collecting hundreds of millions of dollars less in revenue each year. In 2014, Kansans paid $700 million less in state taxes than the previous fiscal year, a far steeper decline than projected.

This drop in revenues should come as no surprise. The “shot of adrenaline” was more like buckshot as the promised economic development did not materialize and the wages that would, presumably, rise correspondingly and result in higher taxes, failed to materialize as well. Worse, the deep budget cuts meant that public sector jobs and wages diminished, further exacerbating the economic decline in the state.

This led to a situation where moderate GOP members were ultimately forced to reject further tax cuts and face the reality that more revenues were needed. One GOP Senator was quoted at length in the article:

“Being governor was all about his tax plan,” Dinah Sykes, a state senator and fellow Republican, said of Mr. Brownback. “And he really believed it was the right step. But as many of us have seen, it was not. We had to take a vote to say no and say, ‘This is not the right direction.’ I don’t know how the governor doesn’t see that.”

Ms. Sykes, who was among the moderate Republican lawmakers to vote to override Mr. Brownback’s veto, said she thought she had no choice but to push for a change. Her suburban Kansas City district had grown weary of the governor’s uncompromising fiscal approach over the last six years, she said, as had many other Kansans.

Email after email after email I get from constituents, say, ‘Please, let’s stop this experiment,’” she said.

I am hoping that Ms. Sykes reaction is a precursor to the reaction we might expect from moderate GOP members who are being asked to adopt a federal budget based on the same philosophy… a budget that cuts services for those in poverty while cutting taxes on the wealthiest in our country on the misguided belief that those cuts will compel them to create more jobs. It didn’t happen in Kansas, it didn’t happen during the Reagan administration, it isn’t happening in Wisconsin… and it will never happen because it has no basis in a world where revenues need to match expenditures.

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