Monday, June 12, 2017

Finally, Something Isn’t the Matter With Kansas

The most momentous political news of the past week? For my money, it wasn’t James Comey’s Senate testimony, riveting as it was. It was the Kansas Legislature’s decision to defy the governor and raise income taxes — a move that could well be the first step in a transformation of American politics much more far-reaching than anything that could come from Russiagate.

Hear me out. Kansas, under Gov. Sam Brownback, has come as close as we’ve ever gotten in the United States to conducting a perfect experiment in supply-side economics. The conservative governor, working with a conservative State Legislature, in the home state of the conservative Koch brothers, took office in 2011 vowing sharp cuts in taxes and state spending, except for education — and promising that those policies would unleash boundless growth.

The taxes were cut, and by a lot. The cumulative cut was forecast to be $3.9 billion by 2019. A fellow at a right-leaning Missouri think tank said in 2015 that Mr. Brownback’s cuts were “the biggest tax cut of any state, relative to the size of its economy, in recent history.”

The cuts came. But the growth never did. As the rest of the country was growing at rates of just above 2 percent, Kansas grew at considerably slower rates, finally hitting just 0.2 percent in 2016. Revenues crashed. Spending was slashed, even on education: In March, the State Supreme Court ruled that state-level school spending was unconstitutionally low. The court is ideologically mixed, but its ruling was unanimous.

The experiment has been a disaster. Mr. Brownback is widely disliked. If he has anything to be grateful for, it’s the existence of Gov. Chris Christie, Republican of New Jersey, who recently swiped from him the title of the nation’s most unpopular governor, which Mr. Brownback had held for the better part of three years.

Finally, even the Republican Kansas Legislature faced reality. Earlier this year it passed tax increases, which the governor vetoed. Last Tuesday, the legislators overrode the veto.

Not only is it a tax increase — it’s even a progressive tax increase! A married couple filing jointly and earning $30,000 will pay an additional $120, which is 0.4 percent of total income, while the same couple earning $100,000 will fork over $755, or 0.755 percent. More than half of the Republicans in both houses voted for the increases.

There’s the background. Now, why is this a big deal?

Because Republicans are not supposed to raise taxes, ever. In Washington or in the states. This goes back to President George H. W. Bush’s agreeing to a bipartisan tax increase in 1990 after famously saying in his 1988 campaign, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Afterward, the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, led by Grover Norquist, started making Republican candidates for Congress and state houses sign a no-tax pledge.

Ever since, with scattered exceptions, no Republican member of the House or Senate has voted for a tax increase. For 27 years. If you wonder why problems arise and Congress never does anything about them, the tax pledge is usually the answer, or at least an answer.

by Michael Tomasky, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Andrew DeGraff