Sam Brownback Facing Down A Red-State Revolt

April 19, 2016

Upon entering office in 2011, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback declared Kansas would host a “real live experiment” to demonstrate that the road to prosperity is paved with repealed regulations and never-ending tax cuts. Unfortunately for Brownback, his conservative dream–indistinguishable from that of the Koch brothers and their network of interest groups–has quickly evolved into a budgetary nightmare. As the economic forecast worsens, Kansas GOP lawmakers are abandoning the governor and reminding voters that, “It’s his policy that put us there.”

Governor Brownback’s audacious, ill-advised “experiment” wouldn’t have been possible without the influence of David and Charles Koch. The Kochs and their network of conservative interest groups were the largest contributors to Brownback’s 2010 campaign. Influencing Brownback’s policy directly, one of Americans for Prosperity’s foremost consultants became the state’s budget director–helping to draft the budgets that have driven Kansas to the brink of fiscal ruin.

The Kochs got everything they could ever want in their home state: decimated government regulations, sweeping tax cuts for businesses, rejected Medicare subsidies, and the elimination of state jobs. The result for Kansans has been dramatic cuts to education spending, infrastructure projects, and what can charitably be described as lackluster job growth (less than .1% over the last year.)

The Kansas “experiment” is a dramatic example of what happens when the Kochs get what they want; the results are economic stagnation, a government in turmoil, and a lower standard of living for the state’s residents.

Now many of the same Republicans who helped pass Brownback’s plan are in open revolt, refusing to help the governor cut spending so he can avoid rolling back any of his signature tax measures.

The continuing budget turmoil has been “just amateurish,” said Republican Sen. Jim Denning, a former conservative ally of Brownback’s who has become a critic. “I’m not happy with how things played out.”

For guidance, Mr. Brownback has leaned on Reagan-era supply-sider economist Arthur Laffer, as well as on Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group funded by the Wichita-based Koch brothers. One of AFP’s top consultants, who drafted mock state budgets while working for the group, is now the state’s budget director.

Often backed by Koch-supported groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity, Republican governors and legislators have introduced proposals to cut taxes and refashion state governments in a more conservative mold. But they have generally taken a more moderate route than Kansas.

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation