Slow growth. Tax cuts. Sound familiar?
President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed tax plan for the nation is similar to Gov. Sam Brownback’s self-proclaimed “real-live experiment” tax plan enacted in 2012.
Both plans include a rate cut for individual income tax and cuts for business income, analysts say.
Kansas faces a nearly $350 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, which runs through June. The budget gap has forced the state to make cuts to most state agencies, the state pension system, highway projects and universities.
In September, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia ranked Kansas 50th in the nation for employment growth, manufacturing hours worked, unemployment rate and wage growth. An economist with the Washington-based, low-tax advocate Tax Foundation told Mississippi lawmakers evaluating planned tax cuts that Kansas is “an example of what not to do in tax reform.”
Meanwhile, some legislators say they will push for the state to roll back the tax cuts next year, and the state budget director said last week that raising taxes is not out of the question.
Brownback has stood by his tax plan and said he is happy Trump plans to implement a similar strategy at the national level.
“I am pleased the President-elect understands the importance of revitalizing the American economy by creating an environment that keeps jobs in America and encourages the growth of both large and small businesses,” Brownback said in a statement to The Eagle.
“Just as we did in Kansas, the President-elect intends to lower taxes on both individual Americans who are working hard to build a future for themselves and their families, and create a favorable environment for the small businesses that drive growth and create jobs. The national economy has been lethargic for a long time and it is good the President-elect wants to take decisive actions to move our nation forward.”
Will the rest of the nation live the Kansas experiment firsthand?
Both Kansas tax policy and the Trump proposals are predicated on the idea that such tax cuts will spur economic activity – trickle-down economics, sometimes called Reaganomics.
Under President Ronald Reagan, taxes were cut and the economy expanded, but the national debt also increased.
Both Brownback and Trump were advised on their tax plans by economist Art Laffer, who was on Reagan’s economic policy advisory board.
In Kansas, the theory was that the cuts would spur economic growth.
“You can look at Kansas and see what happened here. The economic growth did not happen here,” said Duane Goossen, former state budget director in both Republican and Democratic administrations and a senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, which has been consistently critical of Brownback’s policies.
“In Kansas, the state budget is broken,” Goossen said.
The benefits of the tax cuts went primarily to the wealthiest Kansans.
Kansas’ poorest residents, those who make $25,000 a year or less, saw a slight increase in their taxes after the 2012 law went into effect, according to an Eagle analysis of data from the Kansas Department of Revenue.
The average state income tax liability for Kansans in that bracket rose nearly $50 from 2012 – the last year under the old rates – to 2013. The average tax liability went down in 2014, but it was still a net increase of about $40 since the rate cuts.
Last year, the Legislature eliminated income taxes for 380,000 low-income Kansans. But it also increased the state sales tax, a change that some analysts say wipes out the savings from the income tax exemption.
Brownback’s office says dropping agriculture and oil prices have contributed to the state’s budget gap.
When the Kansas Legislature passed the tax cuts in 2012, it didn’t couple it with adequate spending cuts, said Kyle Pomerleau, director of federal projects at the conservative Washington-based Tax Foundation.
Kansas has to have a balanced budget, unlike the federal government.
“It’s either reduce spending or allow borrowing to go up,” Pomerleau said.
There are similarities between the Brownback plan and the Trump campaign’s tax plan.
“Of course, it’s a much different scale,” Pomerleau said.
Brownback’s tax cut was about an $800 million annual tax cut starting in 2014 – about 10 percent of revenue.
“Trump’s tax plan is similar in nature. ... It’s about a $6 trillion tax cut over 10 years, and that’s a little more than 10 percent of federal revenues over the next decade,” Pomerleau said.
To avoid increasing the national debt, the government would need to find ways to cut at least 10 percent of federal spending to offset the tax cuts if growth does not occur as a result of the cuts.
“What we should pay attention to as time goes on is how Trump’s plan may change as it goes through the legislative process,” Pomerleau said.
The House GOP has a tax reform proposal that is different than Trump’s plan and is much smaller – $2.4 trillion versus the $6 trillion in cuts over a decade.
“Trump will have to decide: ‘Is this the size of the tax cut that I want, which requires a lot of spending cuts?’ Or does he rethink some of these proposals, maybe adopt the distance between the House GOP plan and the Trump plan,” Pomerleau said.
Individual income tax
Both the Brownback tax plan and Trump’s plan include income tax cuts.
Trump’s tax plan does two things for individual income tax, Pomerleau said. It reduces the rates for the highest earners, going down from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and it tightens the tax brackets so there are only three. According to the Trump proposal, the brackets and rates for married joint filers would be:
▪ Less than $75,000: 12 percent tax rate
▪ More than $75,000 but less than $225,000: 25 percent tax rate
▪ More than $225,000: 33 percent tax rate
Brackets for single filers would be half of those amounts.
“Brownback’s plan had similar features in that it both reduced the rates and the number of rates,” Pomerleau said. “In the original plan the top rate started at 6.45 percent, and he reduced that to 4.9 percent.”
The other similarities are that both plans expand standard deductions, he said.
“Trump’s tax plan greatly expands the standard deduction. Singles would be able to deduct $15,000, married couples filing jointly would be able to deduct $30,000. That is a little more than doubling the current standard deduction,” Pomerleau said.
“Brownback’s plan had a similar piece,” he said. “For married couples, it was up to $9,000, whereas under the previous law, it was $6,000, so it’s the same aspect there. You’re cutting the rates and reducing the amount of taxable income.”
Trump’s proposal would make cuts to business taxes.
In Kansas, tax exemptions enable some business owners to pay no state tax on business income.
In those pass-through businesses – like LLCs – profits are immediately passed to shareholders or owners, who pay federal taxes on that income at ordinary income tax rates up to the current federal rate of 39.6 percent, Pomerleau said.
“Trump’s tax plan moves in that direction, where wages are treated differently than pass-throughs, but instead of an exemption (like in Kansas), it’s a lower rate,” Pomerleau said.
At the federal level, Trump’s plan would potentially reduce both the pass-through rate and the corporate rate to 15 percent, Pomerleau said.
“This is an ambiguous part of his tax plan,” he said. “We’re not entirely sure how his proposal would work. One interpretation is that (business) income is just taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent.”
With corporate taxes, corporations pay a 35 percent tax rate when they are profitable, and those profits are passed to the shareholders who need to pay another tax, a dividends tax.
Contributing: Bryan Lowry of The Eagle