For decades, economists have struggled to convince Republican leaders that trickle-down and supply-side economics don’t work. Now, Kansas, with the staunch reactionist Sam Brownback at the helm, has provided even further evidence, but it’ll be the working families who have to pay the price. Brownback implemented a tax policy in 2012 that saw precipitous declines in income and corporate tax rates à la the Bush tax cuts and Reaganomics. Now, as wealthy Kansans reap the benefits of their increased net income, ordinary Kansas residents are left with all the mess as the economy stagnates, funding for basic services is cut, and taxes are increased for the poor. Brownback and his band of Republican cronies championed the tax cuts as a way to “stimulate the economy,” the classic trickle-down argument that lowering tax rates at the top will result in an explosion of economic growth that will ultimately increase revenues and benefit all state residents.
Unfortunately, in Kansas, as happened nationally in the Bush and Reagan years, reality has intruded, whether the Republicans are willing to see it or not. New data released by the census last week indicates that Kansas’ tax revenue, far from the dramatic increases predicted by trickle-down supporters, fell by almost 4% last year. While supply-side economics is supposed to lift all boats and create job growth, Kansas’ employment grew at a paltry 1.3% in 2014, about one half of the national rate. These devastating and easily predictable results of the Brownback tax cuts have resulted in a deficit of $600 million in the state budget for next year, as nothing has been done to make up the lost revenue.
As is usually the case with the twisted economics of the GOP, the already overburdened poor are being forced to shoulder the budget deficit by suffering draconian cuts, particularly in education. When the January budget fell short of predictions by about $50 million, Brownback responded by cutting $50 million from the state education budget, and tens of millions more in cuts are in the works as Republican lawmakers scramble to plug the holes in the budget dike that they themselves have opened. The cuts in education are already having very real effects on everyday Kansans, leading many school districts to shorten the school year and lay off teachers, and forcing the University of Kansas to cut certain programs.
Other measures implemented by Brownback to pay for his subsidy to the rich include significant restrictions on welfare, which have added insult to injury by banning the use of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) welfare money at swimming pools, movie theaters, and, ridiculously, on cruise ships. While some 75% of TANF recipients in Kansas are single mothers with children, new restrictions meant to help balance the budget have limited cash withdrawals from the program to $25 per day, preventing large withdrawals such as what is necessary to pay the rent but allowing banks to receive many more $1 transaction fees every time TANF money is withdrawn.
Another central point in Brownback’s new budget plan is raising sales and excise taxes, which are disproportionately felt by the poor, who have an actual need to purchase goods and services, especially food. Already, the poorest fifth of Kansans pay 11.1% of their income in taxes, compared to just 3.6% for the wealthiest 1%. Any empathetic, and indeed any rational person, would see that these numbers should be adjusted to be closer to even. And yet, Brownback, with his wealthy donors holding the chain tight behind him, is doing the opposite, transferring an even greater burden of the state’s taxes on those least able to afford it.
For Brownback and his chums at the banks and in the 1%, transferring any of the burden of the budget gap back to the rich is unthinkable, as the whole point of governing for these twisted Robin Hoods and the big donors they service is to steal from the poor and give to the rich. Moreover, any acknowledgement of the ignorance and ineptitude of his economic policy is out of the question for someone as hard-headed as Brownback, even if the vast majority of his state’s population have to suffer as a consequence. Thus Budget Director Shawn Sullivan announced at a budget hearing last week, “We will work with the Legislature to structurally balance the budget and continue the trend towards lower income taxes.”
The inability to see the most basic aspects of reality is truly remarkable on the part of Kansas Republicans. Indeed, the myth of supply-side and trickle-down economics has become so ingrained in the Republican canon since the days of the mythic Ronald Reagan that their blind faith to the tenets propounded by the bankers and mega-rich they serve has become nearly unshakable. Far from the governor’s mansion in Topeka, however, these ignorant and deceitful policies have very real effects on the lives of the poor and middle classes of Kansas, who are now suffering tremendously to pay for even greater wealth for the richest.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.