In 2012, after passing the largest tax cut in the history of Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback (R) claimed that his new policy would be “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” But as a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes clear, Brownback’s policies are doing a lot more harm than good.
According to the CBPP, the tax cuts have already cost Kansas $803 million in revenue, and that figure will swell to over $5 billion by 2019. The state’s schools, courts, health departments, and other public services have felt the brunt of that loss through severe cuts.
After adjusting for inflation, funding for higher education is down 23 percent compared to pre-recession levels (even as tuition at Kansas public colleges and universities has risen by 8 percent). Funding for libraries is 35 percent below 2012 levels, and 65 percent below 2008 levels. Funding for local health departments is down 14 percent from before the recession. Funding for courts is down 16 percent. Each of these declines leaves Kansas well behind most states in the nation.
Schools have been hit especially hard by the impact of the tax cuts. Although most states have spent the past two years restoring spending cuts that were forced by the recession — 47 states have raised general state school funding per student since 2012 — Kansas has continued to slash its education budget. If the state adopts Governor Brownback’s proposed budget, school funding would land 17 percent below pre-recession levels.
Making matters worse, Kansas’ economy is lagging significantly behind the rest of the country. CBPP finds that the state’s job growth, business growth, and income growth are all below the national average — and the state’s own forecasts project that it will get worse in the coming years.
That’s not to say that the whole state is suffering, however. Brownback’s tax cuts have worked out rather nicely for the wealthiest Kansans. The highest-income 1 percent of the state received an average tax cut of 2.2 percent of their income, compared to 0.5 percent for the middle 20 percent of households. Meanwhile, Brownback’s package actually raised taxes on the poorest 20 percent of the state, by eliminating tax credits such as a sales tax rebate.
Given all of this, it’s no surprise that Brownback’s approval ratings have plummeted (to just 33 percent, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey). The governor, whom some consider to be a dark-horse presidential candidate, may not even survive his 2014 re-election campaign against Democrat Paul Davis.
As other Republican governors such as Bobby Jindal and Tom Corbett have learned the hard way, it seems that a Tea Party-inspired economic platform of huge cuts to both taxes and government services is a lot more popular in theory than in practice.
Photo: J. Stephen Conn via Flickr