Kochs’ canary in the coal mine: Kansas

June 2, 2015

The Koch brothers’ economic experiment has failed so horribly that Gov. Sam Brownback might be forced to do the unimaginable for a Republican: raise taxes. 

Brownback is scrambling to make up for devastating budget shortfalls after he teamed up with the Kochs in their home state to push their agenda, according to the New York Times. Just three years ago, Brownback passed the largest tax cuts in state history — promising that they would lead to economic growth. Unfortunately for the citizens of Kansas, that growth and prosperity never came. It’s the canary in the coal mine warning us that, as the Kochs look to buy the presidency in 2016, their model state is in financial ruin. 

Brownback’s extreme tax cuts came directly from the Koch playbook. The Times notes that Brownback’s radical rollbacks on small business and income taxes are estimated to cost a total of about $7 billion through 2019. These are the kind of tax cuts that the Kochs dream about. But since the cuts were put in place, Brownback and legislators have been desperately trying to fix the budget to fill hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls. The governor has cut some state agency budgets by four percent, reduced contributions to the state pension system, and slowed funding increases for entitlement programs.

Lawmakers have also dramatically slashed funding for poorer school districts resulting in a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Kansas’ education funding is unconstitutionally low. Two Kansas school districts were forced to end the academic year early to save money. The school districts faced massive budget gaps after losing $51 million they were expected to receive for the current school year.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that employment growth in Kansas is lagging behind the rest of the nation. Wichita State University found that while employment grew by 2.1 percent nationally in the last 12 months, in Kansas it grew by just 1.1 percent. The legislature’s signal to raise taxes is a last resort for the governor.

The decision to raise taxes has resulted in a bitter battle among conservatives who are considering whether to raise income tax, sales tax, or reinstate the tax on small businesses. Raising taxes would be an embarrassment for Governor Brownback, who once referred to his drastic tax cuts as a “real-live experiment.” The plan’s disastrous results demonstrate that Brownback would choose extreme ideology — and the Koch brothers — over sound fiscal policy.

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation