The U.S. Republican Party must answer for what it did to Kansas and Louisiana – We are one election away from it being our national storyPosted by Jim at Sunday, March 20, 2016
By Eric Levitz
18 March 2016
(New York Magazine) – Over the course of 12 debates, the Republican presidential candidates were never asked to address the budget problems in Kansas. That may not sound like an odd omission but it is. To see why, let’s take a quick trip to a parallel political universe:
In Bizarro America, the tea party never happened. Instead, the Great Recession sparked a left-wing populist movement that swept democratic socialists into statehouses all across the country. In Vermont, these Denmark-worshippers took full control of state government and implemented their radical agenda. They raised income taxes to unprecedented heights, upped the minimum wage to $15 an hour, made all state universities tuition-free, and established a single-payer health-care system. As he signed the last of these programs into law, Governor Bernie Sanders declared that Vermont would serve as a blue-state model, one that the Democratic Party’s 2016 ticket could use to say, “See, we’ve got a different way, and it works.”
But by 2016, that model had collapsed. Every warning that conservatives had made about Sanders’s program proved prescient. The tax hikes chased all the job creators out of state. The new minimum wage didn’t raise low-income workers’ living standards; it raised their unemployment rate. The costs of free college and universal health care proved so onerous, the state was forced to raid its rainy-day funds and borrow at high interest rates just to keep the government running. Vermont now faced a billion-dollar deficit. Schools were shuttered. Pensions were cut. The state’s department of social services could no longer afford to investigate child abuse. The legal system could no longer provide indigent defendants with representation. Nonetheless, in the race for the White House, every Democratic candidate ran on some version of Sanders’s economic model.
Wouldn’t it be important for those candidates to explain why their program wouldn’t fail the country in the same way it had failed the Green Mountain State? If you think yes, then you should demand that Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz explain why their tax policies won’t fail America in the same way they’ve failed the people of Kansas.
In 2010, the tea-party wave put Sam Brownback into the Sunflower State’s governor’s mansion and Republican majorities in both houses of its legislature. Together, they implemented the conservative movement’s blueprint for Utopia: They passed massive tax breaks for the wealthy and repealed all income taxes on more than 100,000 businesses. They tightened welfare requirements, privatized the delivery of Medicaid, cut $200 million from the education budget, eliminated four state agencies and 2,000 government employees. In 2012, Brownback helped replace the few remaining moderate Republicans in the legislature with conservative true believers. The following January, after signing the largest tax cut in Kansas history, Brownback told the Wall Street Journal, “My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, 'See, we've got a different way, and it works.' "
As you’ve probably guessed, that model collapsed. Like the budget plans of every Republican presidential candidate, Brownback’s “real live experiment” proceeded from the hypothesis that tax cuts for the wealthy are such a boon to economic growth, they actually end up paying for themselves (so long as you kick the undeserving poor out of their welfare hammocks). The Koch-backed Kansas Policy Institute predicted that Brownback’s 2013 tax plan would generate $323 million in new revenue. During its first full year in operation, the plan produced a $688 million loss. Meanwhile, Kansas’s job growth actually trailed that of its neighboring states. With that nearly $700 million deficit, the state had bought itself a 1.1 percent increase in jobs, just below Missouri’s 1.5 percent and Colorado’s 3.3.
Those numbers have hardly improved in the intervening years. In 2015, job growth in Kansas was a mere 0.1 percent, even as the nation’s economy grew 1.9 percent. Brownback pledged to bring 100,000* new jobs to the state in his second term; as of January, he has brought 700. What’s more, personal income growth slowed dramatically since the tax cuts went into effect. Between 2010 and 2012, Kansas saw income growth of 6.1 percent, good for 12th in the nation; from 2013 to 2015, that rate was 3.6 percent, good for 41st.
Meanwhile, revenue shortfalls have devastated the state’s public sector along with its most vulnerable citizens. Since Brownback’s inauguration, 1,414 Kansans with disabilities have been thrown off Medicaid. In 2015, six school districts in the state were forced to end their years early for lack of funding. Cuts to health and human services are expected to cause 65 preventable deaths this year in Sedgwick County alone. In February, tax receipts came in $53 million below estimates; Brownback immediately cut $17 million from the state’s university system. This data is not lost on the people of Kansas — as of November, Brownback’s approval rating was 26 percent, the lowest of any governor in the United States. […]
What has happened to these states should be a national story; because we are one election away from it being our national story. [more]