Kansas keeps on bleeding: Sam Brownback's tax-cut miracle still hasn't arrived, and won't any time soon

Sam Brownback, Art Laffer and the Kansas GOP have turned the state into a trash fire of economic policy

Published May 22, 2015 11:58AM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Dave Kaup)
(Reuters/Dave Kaup)

Way back in 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and supply-side alchemist Art Laffer were positively giddy about the economic miracle they had in store for Kansas. With Laffer’s assistance, Brownback had crafted a tax package that was the living embodiment of conservative economic fantasy – slashed income tax rates across the board, especially deep cuts for top earners, and elimination of taxes on small businesses. It was a “pro-growth” vision that was supposed to send Kansas’ economy into overdrive, make it the envy of all surrounding states, and provide irrefutable proof that tax cuts truly were an economic panacea.

The tax cuts would be “like shooting adrenaline into the heart of growing the economy,” Brownback said at an April 2012 economic conference. “Cutting taxes can have a near immediate and permanent impact,” Laffer wrote in September 2012, “which is why we have advised Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states to cut their income tax rates if they want the most effective immediate and lasting boost to their states’ economies.”

Two years later, in 2014, the promised economic benefits hadn’t arrived – in fact, Kansas was lagging badly in job growth, bleeding money and slashing spending to try to make up for the losses. But Brownback wasn’t deterred. After having promised and failed-to-deliver adrenaline to Kansas’ economic heart, he started preaching patience. “It takes some time,” Brownback told CBN in October 2014. “Tax policy takes some time for it to work.” Laffer also changed up his story – he’d guaranteed an “immediate and lasting” economic boost, but in January 2015 he urged Kansans to wait. “You have to view this over 10 years,” he told the Kansas City Star. “It will work in Kansas.”

Will it, though? According to the Kansas Legislative Research Department: no. Not in the next few years, at least. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the non-partisan organization just released new economic projections that show personal incomes in Kansas growing more slowly than the national average through 2017. “Serious academic literature typically finds little relationship between a state's tax levels and its economic performance,” CBPP notes. “So there's no reason to think that the tax cuts will cause Kansas' economy to boom in the future.”

So the Brownback/Laffer tax scheme hasn’t goosed the Kansas economy and it doesn’t look like it will any time soon. It has succeeded marvelously, though, in redistributing wealth to the top of the income ladder, while, at the same time, screwing over the people at the bottom. While the rich soaked up the lion’s share of the tax windfall, the poorest Kansas families actually saw their tax burden tick up a little bit.

And when it comes to screwing the poor, Kansas Republicans are proving to be among the more creative and heartlessly depraved groups of legislators in the country. Last month, the Legislature passed a resolution barring welfare recipients from spending their benefits at swimming pools, movie theaters, casinos, tattoo parlors, and strip clubs. It’s a dehumanizing and paternalistic policy that assumes the poor are undeserving of simple diversions like going to see a movie, or are scamming the government to finance their gambling and/or stripper habits.

And it gets worse! The legislature also voted to limit the amount of cash welfare recipients can withdraw from ATMs to $25 per day. As the Washington Post explains, this is a horrible policy for a plethora of reasons. The low daily limit means recipients have to make multiple cash withdrawals over the course of a month, meaning a significant portion of their benefit is lost to ATM fees. Also, you’d be hard-pressed to find an ATM that dispenses $5 bills, meaning that the actual daily limit is $20. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the policy itself very likely violates federal prohibitions against imposing unreasonable barriers to accessing welfare benefits, which means the state could end up losing its block-granted federal welfare funds. It’s a policy that punishes the poor for no other reason than they’re poor, and it has the practical effect of taking money that’s supposed to help the needy and turning it into a handout for financial institutions.

This is what Sam Brownback, Art Laffer and the state Republican Party have turned Kansas into: an economic policy trash fire that channels all the benefits to the top, produces no shared prosperity, is bankrupting the state, and deliberately makes the lives of the less fortunate even more difficult. But don’t worry, they say, just be patient – the economic miracle is just around the corner.

By Simon Maloy

MORE FROM Simon Maloy