Eight days before Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback may lose re-election thanks to the disastrous consequences of his deep tax cuts, the Wall Street Journal has published an apologia for Brownback's supply side experiment. And if you're willing to suspend your faculties of observation and critical thinking, you just may find it persuasive.
You know you're in for a real doozy when Allysia Finley, a member of the Journal's editorial board and the piece's author, begins by comparing Brownback's tax cuts with the 19th-century struggle against slavery. "During the 1850s," Finley writes "Kansas turned into a battleground for a proxy war between abolitionists and slavery supporters. Today, Kansas has become the flash point in another national debate, this one over government’s role in promoting growth." Well then.
Unlike Brownback, whose theory is that his policies will soon start working )any day now!) but the liberal media is determined to create the impression that they've already failed, Finley assures us that Kansas' tax cuts are working right now. Conveniently, she omits that Kansas collected $330 million less than expected in revenue for fiscal year 2014, which was $700 million below revenue for fiscal 2013. Nor does Finley note that from July to September, Kansas' revenue was a staggering 10 percent short of expectations. But Finley simply asserts that any budgetary problems can safely be laid at the feet of moderate Republicans in the Kansas Senate, who opposed an arbitrary cap of two percent spending growth each year.
Meanwhile, Finley asks, "if the tax cuts have been so disastrous, why won’t [Paul Davis, Brownback's Democratic challenger] pledge to repeal them?" Take the tax cuts' consequences for education funding. Finley complains that Democrats and the liberal media have unfairly claimed that Brownback signed “largest single cut to education in Kansas history” to help pay for his tax cuts. But, she writes, "[s]chool funding in Kansas is actually at an all-time high. Total per-pupil spending has increased to $12,960 from $12,283 over four years."
What Finley doesn't see fit to mention is that state funding for public schools remains 15 percent below pre-Great Recession levels. Adjusting for inflation, per-pupil spending has declined $861 since 2008. Of 47 states studied by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kansas ranked fifth in the size of its cuts to education since the recession.
And what of the flourishing economy Brownback promised his tax cuts would create? "Since the tax cuts took effect in January 2013," Finley writes, "private job growth in Kansas has surpassed growth in Nebraska and Iowa after trailing for the prior decade. Services (i.e., small businesses) account for 95% of the state’s growth in private jobs, compared with about 70% in Iowa and Nebraska." Sounds pretty impressive -- until you realize Kansas' GDP growth of 1.9 percent in 2013 lagged seven neighboring or Great Plains states; the only state in the region to fare worse was Missouri. Kansas' rate of job growth is also slower than the nation's rate of recovery as a whole, while Brownback's economic policies haven't measurably improved Kansans' standard of living. In 2013, Kansas ranked 24th in per-capita personal income -- just as it did in 2012 and 2011. The state's poor and vulnerable have suffered the most under Brownback's administration; as ThinkProgress notes, Brownback has kicked more than 1,400 disabled people off of Medicaid since taking office in January 2011. This from a guy who speaks incessantly of fostering a "culture of life."
By any objective measure, then, Brownback's tax cuts have been an utter failure. So what explains the disinformation campaign waged by Brownback's supporters in the GOP and on the Wall Street Journal editorial board? There's no doubt that part of the explanation lies in the conservative bubble's imperviousness to those pesky things called "facts" and "evidence." But we also can't lose sight of the right wing's ultimate agenda of savage cuts to government programs and public assistance -- hence Finley's insistence, for instance, that all would be going swimmingly if those damned Kansas RINOs had just swallowed real spending cuts. And that larger agenda is what makes Brownback's experiment so pernicious.