There was a windstorm of hasty excuses in recent weeks after Kansas reported that it took in $338 million less than expected in the 2014 fiscal year and would have to dip heavily into a reserve fund. Spending wasn’t cut enough, said conservatives. Too many rich people sold off stock in the previous year, state officials said. It’s the price of creating jobs, said Gov. Sam Brownback. None of those reasons were correct. There was only one reason for the state’s plummeting revenues, and that was the spectacularly ill-advised income tax cuts that Brownback and his fellow Republicans engineered in 2012 and 2013.
The business boom predicted by Kansas’ tax cut advocates has not happened, and it certainly has not come remotely close to offsetting the static revenue loss from the legislated tax cuts. One can argue whether cutting taxes is a good thing. One can argue about whether government is too big. One can even argue about whether low taxes increase business activity. But one cannot credibly argue that tax cuts increase revenue or even pay for themselves. They didn’t for Ronald Reagan. They don’t for Sam Brownback. They won’t for the next politician who tries.
I think it’s too early to tell if the Kansas experiment was a failure. It may be that the tax cuts have not been given enough time, because tax changes rarely have immediate consequences at the state level. But I do think those kinds of tax changes will have positive long-term effects on the overall economy.
Since passage of Brownback’s signature legislation in May of 2012, job growth in Kansas has been 2 percent, well below the national average of 3.45 percent in that same time frame. In fact, the trend in Kansas is now downward. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Kansans with jobs declined in March, in April and again in May. Nationally, more than 730,000 jobs were created in those three months.
The record of Kansas since 2012 shows the folly of such draconian cuts in revenue. It’s one thing to enact targeted cuts in tax rates during an economic upswing, when such a policy can add fuel to job generation. It’s quite another to do so blindly during a slump, when cuts in state services undermine efforts at recovery.
In many ways, Brownback’s term has been a perfect experiment in Republican governance. Take a crusading conservative governor, give him a legislature with Republican supermajorities so he can do pretty much whatever he wants, and let him implement the right’s wish list. The result was supposed to be a nirvana of economic growth and budgetary stability. But the opposite happened.
While the media have breathlessly reported this large number of Republicans joining liberal Democrat (Paul) Davis in his quest for governor, one thing the media doesn’t much discuss is the fact that the largest number of these Republicans have long been out of office, some primaried out of their positions by more conservative candidates. Most of the Republicans on this list have a long history of supporting liberal policies.
The concept would be laughable if there weren’t so many people taking it seriously: The idea is that states have the right under the 10th Amendment to unilaterally reject federal laws on issues not expressly reserved for the federal government in the Constitution. It’s an old idea – it had a lot of currency among segregationists during the civil rights era – and has been debunked by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the Kansas Legislature last year turned that empty-headed theory into law, adopting what it called the Second Amendment Protection Act. Legislators who take up these doomed measures violate their oaths of office, which include a pledge to uphold the U.S. Constitution.