Barry R. Grissom: Brownback's 'Kansas Experiment' did not create jobs
State's radical tax cutting finally had to be reversed because of the harm it was causing, writes Grissom
Editor’s Note: Barry R. Grissom, a Democrat, served as US Attorney for Kansas from 2010 to 2016. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Last week, Republican state legislators in Kansas finally acknowledged what we have known since 2012: Gov. Sam Brownback’s “Kansas Experiment” burdened our businesses, wrecked our state’s finances, and mortgaged our children’s future, all in the name of giving tax breaks to the wealthy.
When pushing their controversial plan, Brownback and his allies claimed his agenda would create 22,000 jobs in the state. Unfortunately for hard-working Kansans, Brownback’s trickle-down economics didn’t make those jobs appear.
Kansas’ job growth actually declined since Brownback’s tax giveaway to the most well-off Kansans. We’ve fallen 47,000 jobs short of the promise made by the governor’s revenue secretary; an especially notable trend given that our neighbors in Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma have all experienced increasing job growth rates during the same period. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Kansans’ disposable income declined in the years under Brownback, falling nearly $20 billion short of his promise. Unsurprisingly our neighbors to the North, South, East, and West did not suffer the same drop. They also kept their state’s credit rating intact, which was not the case in Kansas.
Ultimately, Brownback delivered on none of his promises. The only accomplishment was stacking the deck even further in favor of the wealthy. For example, Bill Self, the head coach of KU’s basketball team, dominated the tax code with the same ease that his Jayhawks dominate Iowa State. Self set himself up as a pass-through business, using Brownback’s tax policy to pay $0 in state income taxes on that part of his pay, which was the bulk of his compensation.
While I love KU basketball and our head coach, the fact that he paid no income tax on $2.75 million in compensation shows he is as shrewd with his taxes as he is on the sidelines, but that isn’t fair to Kansas families scraping to get by. Putting more money into the pockets of those who need it the least doesn’t create jobs. It just weakens the fundamentals that keep our economy and communities strong.
Kansas contains a lesson for Congress. Politicians in Washington, D.C., are set to embark on a similar fiscal path Brownback charted. President Donald Trump’s insistence on huge federal tax giveaways to wealthy Americans will not create jobs. Fewer investments will hurt our economic growth rate. There will be a decline in tax revenue. His plan to enable the setup of pass-throughs for business owners will only lead to evasion and dwindling federal dollars. Infrastructure will crumble and critical services will be cut.
It is impossible to hide the effect of slashing revenue, and Americans will feel the impact of these cuts. His plan will give tax breaks to the largest corporations and mirrors the agenda that put Kansas in dire fiscal straits. And from a political perspective, it is historic that a Republican controlled legislature is rebuking their Republican governor over tax cuts. Why? Because the rhetoric on tax cuts does not match reality.
It takes a lot of bad economic news for Republicans to raise taxes on the folks who write the biggest checks to their campaigns, but even Jim Denning, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, went so far as to admit that repealing those tax giveaways was the only fix to the mess he and his colleagues created. Congressional Republicans, Kansas is your warning: you do not want to do this.
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The legislation passed last week provides an additional $293 million in school funding, dollars that will help make up for the neglect that forced four of the state’s poorest districts to sue their own state government. Leaders in Washington should take note: constituents notice when programs they rely on every day are targeted. Call it tax reform, call it tax cuts, but it is no longer simple rhetoric and a spreadsheet of line items when roads start crumbling and school doors start closing.