Dear Reps. Marshall, Jenkins, Yoder and Estes, and Sens. Roberts and Moran:
A moment of truth for each of you is at hand. President Trump has proposed a tax plan that looks and sounds remarkably like the Brownback experiment playing out in Kansas. Trump will be asking for your vote, but consider the experience of your home state before you cast it.
Just like the Brownback tax cuts, the Trump plan makes dramatic changes to tax policy by consolidating income tax rates and reworking deductions. Most notably, the Trump plan offers an enormous tax break to individuals who receive “business pass through income.” In Kansas this feature has become known derogatorily as the LLC loophole, allowing business income to be sheltered from income tax while people who earn a paycheck must pay tax.
Given that the same economists who advised Brownback now advise Trump, it’s unsurprising that his administration uses similar arguments to sell its plan: the tax cuts will grow the economy and create millions of jobs; the tax cuts will pay for themselves; everyone will benefit. Brownback said all that, too.
But after five years of the Brownback experiment in Kansas, we know the real result. Kansas has an anemic economy and one of the lowest rates of job growth in the nation. A dramatic drop in revenue broke the state budget, wiped out reserves, significantly boosted state debt, and put public education at risk. And that part about everyone benefiting — well, it turns out that the bulk of the benefits went to the wealthiest Kansans while the tax bill to low-income Kansans went up.
The idea that tax cuts will “pay for themselves” or that tax cuts for the wealthy will “trickle down” to the middle class should be added to the list of discredited ideas that sound good but don’t work. The sell job was seductive, but Kansans have the raw experience to grasp that the experiment carried out on us was a failure.
Do you know how hard legislators must labor now to fix the financial disaster? Are you catching on that general fund revenue has fallen $1 billion below expenses? Can you see how all political energy goes into crisis management rather than building our future? Is that what you want for the entire country?
Based on your public statements so far, it’s hard to feel confident that any of you will acknowledge the tax policy failure in Kansas and fight off the Trump plan. If you support it, you betray all who have endured the troubles resulting from the Brownback plan, and the legislators who have been struggling in overtime this session to reverse course. A yes vote would be a willful betrayal, because after all that has happened in Kansas, you won’t be able to say “I didn’t know.”
Duane Goossen served 12 years as Kansas Budget Director.