Sam Brownback in deep trouble: After derailing Kansas' economy, governor lashes out

GOP governor once said his tax policy would be like a shot of adrenaline. Now he says it just needs time to work

Published October 9, 2014 3:57PM (EDT)

  (AP/Charlie Riedel)
(AP/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas governor Sam Brownback is among the surprisingly large contingent of GOP governors who, in an election year that promises big gains for Republicans, are struggling badly to win reelection. Ask anyone why Brownback is trailing his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, and they’ll probably say something about how Brownback’s economic agenda of pairing painfully deep tax cuts with catastrophically deep tax cuts has hobbled the state’s economy. But Sam Brownback would respectfully disagree.

Appearing on CBN News yesterday, Brownback laid all his troubles at the feet of the ever mischievous liberal media, who already decided that his policies wouldn’t work and are now unfairly reporting on the “facts” that back up that conclusion. “I think they so desperately want what’s happening in this state to fail,” Brownback said, “that they’re shopping for a factual setting to back that up.” But it’s not failing, Brownback insisted. “It’s working.”

Well, perhaps “working” was too strong a word, because Brownback quickly elaborated that maybe his tax agenda isn’t “working” at this very moment, but the jobs will definitely start trickling down in the future. Kansas just has to be patient.

You may remember – you may not be old enough to remember 1982 for Ronald Reagan. Reagan does his tax cuts in 1981, income tax cuts. Stimulates economic growth for two decades. But 1982 was a tough election cycle for Reagan because the cuts are in place, so the revenue’s down for the government, but it hasn't hit in the private sector to move it up yet. It takes some time. And that’s what the situation is, somewhat, for us too here. Tax policy takes some time for it to work.

Well isn’t that interesting? Brownback is arguing that we should take the long view and not fall into the trap of assuming that cutting taxes so drastically would immediately stimulate job creation and economic growth. That would seem to contradict pretty much everything conservatives like Sam Brownback said in 2009 when the economy was spiraling downward into recession and we were told that tax cuts were only surefire way to get the economy out of its funk.

But let’s grant Brownback the premise and agree that it takes time for the effects of tax cuts to be felt by the private sector. That seems like a reasonable argument to make, so long as he didn’t promise at any point prior to this that his tax policy would be akin to something like, I don’t know, “shooting adrenaline into the heart of growing the economy.”

I think you know where this is going. Here’s Sam Brownback at an economic conference in April 2012 talking about the tax policy he would sign into law the following month. He boasted that his plan to eliminate taxes for small businesses would be “like shooting adrenaline into the heart of growing the economy.”

“On the economic modeling of it for our state,” he added, “it looks really nice on growth, particularly the growth piece is taking that tax off of small business, and really targeting that piece of the growth instrument.” The “adrenaline” metaphor was one that Brownback deployed frequently, like in this July 2012 Wichita Eagle op-ed: “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.

Those predictions haven’t panned out. Labor department data released last month showed that Kansas, for the entirety of 2014, had created just 7,400 jobs, for a growth rate of 0.5 percent on the year. The Kansas City Star crunched the numbers and found that “Kansas has had one of the nation’s poorest rates of employment growth during Brownback’s time in office, including since the first tax cuts took effect in 2013.” The idea behind Brownback’s tax scheme was that lost revenues would be made up for by an explosion in growth promised by lessening the tax burden on businesses and “job creators,” but that never happened. And so the state has had to slash funding for education and other state services to help pay the bills. One consequence of this has been massive public sector job losses in the state.

But if you listen to Sam Brownback, all those lost government jobs are a good thing – indeed, they’re what he intended. “Our public sector job numbers are down,” Brownback told CBN News, “but that’s what we’ve been focusing on doing! Because as we get that number down and more effective, we can pass that on in tax cuts to the people of Kansas.” By “the people of Kansas,” Brownback meant the wealthiest residents of the state, who’ve benefited more than anyone else from his tax policies. The poorest residents of the state, meanwhile, actually saw their taxes increase by just over one percent.

As for Brownback’s attempt to blame the “liberal media,” it lacks originality and doesn’t make any sense. Kansas is one of the most reliably red states in the country. It’s full of conservatives. The Koch brothers live there, for God’s sake. Are we really supposed to believe that same state that voted 56 percent for John McCain, 63 percent for Sam Brownback, and 60 percent for Mitt Romney are now suddenly being duped by the “liberal media”?

That argument doesn’t seem like a winner, though it can’t be any worse than the strip club thing.

By Simon Maloy

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