Political Animal


January 24, 2013 1:28 PM The Kansas “Experiment”

By Ed Kilgore

Soon after then-Senator Sam Brownback saw his presidential ambitions fade in 2007 when Mike Huckabee outflanked him as the candidate of hard-core Iowa anti-choicers and home schoolers, he turned his attentions back home to Kansas. As governor since 2011, he’s presiding over what the New York Times’ John Eligon is describing as the polar opposite of the vision articulated by the president in his second inaugural address: “a model of conservative governance for other states, if not the nation, to follow.”

Famous as the hardest of anti-choice hardliners, Brownback and his friends have already made Kansas a pioneer in the national state-based effort to restrict abortion rights via every available means. They’ve gained even more notoriety as the national headquarters for RINO-hunters, with a particularly effective purge of state legislative moderates occurring in last year’s primaries.

But Sam Brownback’s main obsession seems to be on the tax front, where he’s long battled to cut income and business levies, and is now firmly on the bandwagon—along with Bobby Jindal and others—for replacing income taxes entirely with higher regressive sales taxes. Brownback’s last tax cut initiative followed a pattern that’s becoming very familiar:

Critics say Mr. Brownback’s tax cut was passed on the backs of low-income Kansans. The bill included the repeal of tax credits for food, rental housing and child care that benefited low-income residents. Because of those repeals, the poorest 20 percent of Kansans will spend an additional 1.3 percent of their incomes, an average of $148 per year, on taxes, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, will see the share of their income that goes toward taxes drop by 2 percent, or $21,087 per year, the report said.

None of this is surprising; when he was running for president, Brownback was a big proponent of highly regressive “flat tax” schemes.

Why are state-level Republicans moving in this direction? Well, they can’t just cut taxes for everybody in sight and run budget deficits like they do in Congress, and they can’t (or won’t) cut spending enough to offset the tax goodies they want to supply to their business allies. Since a good chuck of the conservative “base” is perpetually riled up about the ability of those people to avoid their fair share of the tax burden, selective tax increases aimed at non-Republicans are very good GOP politics, particularly in the state context where it can be claimed such policies are essential to “keep up” with fine progressive jurisdictions like Texas.

It’s classic race-to-the-bottom stuff, and it makes perfect sense that the engineers at the Kansas experiment station for right-wing policymaking want to keep their downward trajectory as rapid as is possible.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Domage on January 24, 2013 1:50 PM:

    What's truly remarkable about this is how effectively it's been sold to the people who will suffer the most from its impact. Many people eeking out a living at the bottom of the economic ladder are convinced that flat taxes and sales taxes are much more fair than graduated income taxes. They don't understand that the average millionaire spends only a tiny proportion of his income on items subject to sales taxes (while they spend nearly all of their income on such things). Likewise, they think having a 15% flat income tax is more fair because "now everyone pays the same." Never mind that the millionaire just had his income tax cut by more than half while the poorest citizens went from zero to 15%.

    Sadly, there is no cure for this kind of stupidity. When the impact of these policies finally does come home to these people, they'l just blame "the government" and not the asshats like Brownback who actually foisted this upon them.

    And can you guys do something about the server instability this site suffers from?

  • c u n d gulag on January 24, 2013 1:54 PM:

    'What's the matter with Kansas?'

    Too many Conservative White Kansans!

    They're all too willing to cut off their own noses, to spite the faces of the Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Women, Gays, Liberals, Atheists, Agnostics, and other minorities in their state.

    The prevailing thinking must be:
    "But hey, sure, we might be poor, but at least them N*gras, Sp*cs, T*wel-heads Moozlims, F*gs, D*kes, Lefties, Women with their icky innies, Sl*pes, non-Jesus believers, Red Inj*ns, and them D*t-head Injuns, won't be getting any more of MY money!"

    I think that the old saying, "Fools and their money are soon parted," doesn't just apply to grifters and gamblers, who depend on suckers, rubes, fools, marks, morons, and idiots - it also applies to politics.

  • Josef K on January 24, 2013 2:10 PM:

    Just how seriously screwed-up are Kansas's finances? What happens if/when the state has to declare bankruptcy?

  • John Wilheim on January 24, 2013 2:51 PM:

    I live in Kansas and despair at what Brownback has done and will be able to do, with a Legislature in which Reps outnumber Dems by a 3-1 ratio in the House and 4-1 in the Senate. Our schools are woefully underfunded and the State Supreme Court recently ruled that the funding is in violation of the state Constitution. The court specified what the per-pupil funding must be. Brownback & Co. are just ignoring the court, spouting gibberish such as, "Since when can one of three co-equal branches tell another branch what to do?" Brownback's budget proposal calls for a seriously low per-pupil funding amount this year and -- get this -- an increase of that amount by $14 -- yes, fourteen dollars -- next year. Sigh.

  • Mimikatz on January 24, 2013 2:58 PM:

    Brownback and his fellows better hope that their God is going to save Kansas, because they sure aren't. Kansas is projected to suffer mightily from climate change, especially drought and rising temperatures. Wichita had among the highest temps last summer, just marginally lower than Texas and Oklahoma. At temps projected for midcentury corn and other crops won't pollinate. They are destroying their children's futures. This, in addition to the pain they are gleefully inflicting on vulnerable Kansans in the present.

  • ComradeAnon on January 24, 2013 3:20 PM:

    I think they know what they're doing. This represents about $800 million in cuts. And just like Jindal, they'll have to cut spending elsewhere. And we know where that will come from. Things moved in to the Punitive arena.

  • Gretchen on January 24, 2013 3:50 PM:

    Brownback says that revenues will grow when businesses move here because of the low income taxes. Businesses love to locate in places with lousy public school and roads, don't they?
    The most brilliant part of the plan? Shifting revenue from income taxes to sales taxes. Well over 10% of the Kansas population lives on the Missouri border, in Kansas City, Kansas and the Kansas City Missouri suburbs. I live in a close-in Kansas-side suburb, and I did my grocery shopping in Missouri yesterday because the Trader Joe's on the Missouri side can carry wine, and that on the Kansas side can't. I'm betting if they hike taxes enough, we'll all do all our shopping on the other side of State Line Road. That will be a bonanza for Kansas business.

  • Suki Barnstorm on January 24, 2013 3:57 PM:

    So, why don't the low income people just move to another state? Like MO where the tax rates are lower. Then when there are no more people to do all the menial tasks, maybe the good people of Kansas will get their heads out of their a$$es and think about how this doesn't work.

  • Bokonon on January 24, 2013 4:20 PM:

    ComradeAnon: exactly. This sounds like an effort to deliberately create a crisis in the state's finances.

    And then the GOP can turn to the state's voters, and brandish its balanced budget requirement, and say "Whoa, look at that! We are in crisis! We've got to cut back government spending! We've got no choice! Just look at that deficit!!"

    Dunno ... somehow, I think I've seen this movie before.

    All of this assumes that voters are extremely stupid, and don't have memories, and can't connect cause and effect. But clearly, if it is shooting the moon like this, the GOP feels it can pull stunts like this off.

    They are doubling down on scorched earth, aren't they?

  • biggerbox on January 24, 2013 4:58 PM:

    I hadn't realized that Governor Brownback had read Margaret Atwood. Too bad he took A Handmaid's Tale as an instruction manual, not a dystopian work of fiction. How long until they change the name of the state to Gilead?

  • Crissa on January 24, 2013 5:31 PM:

    While the richest can move, and the middle class may move - but usually doesn't, wedded to their jobs - the poorest pretty much can't move. They often make crazy jumps from place to place, but their choices aren't based upon income taxes: They're generally based upon rent, and whether they can scrounge up enough to get a place to stay.

    So no, the poor don't just 'move'.

    There's a reason why it costs 2-3 times as much to live in my county than it does in any in Kansas: Because most people want to live in my county, and they don't want to live in Kansas.

  • anandine on January 24, 2013 7:20 PM:

    I might go for a sales tax, if stocks, bonds, accounting services, private schools, psychiatry, and everything else rich people buy is taxed at the same rate. I'll bet a 9% tax on high-speed trading would bring in some money for the few seconds before they stopped doing it.

  • FDRLincoln on January 24, 2013 9:52 PM:

    I live in Kansas, granted Lawrence, which is very blue.

    If I could, I'd move. I can't for family reasons. But if possible, i'd get the hell out of this state.

    I love Lawrence and this is a very progressive community, but the tide of red barbarism will swamp us eventually. This state will become unlivable if Brownback and his cronies get his way.