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Morning Sun
  • INSIGHT KANSAS: Brownback takes a cosmic roll of the dice

  • In 1932, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis opined “a single courageous State may,  . . . serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Kansas has taken that laboratory spirit seriously with a new effort that could cure what ails most economies or combust like a volatile chemical combination.

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  • In 1932, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis opined “a single courageous State may,  . . . serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Kansas has taken that laboratory spirit seriously with a new effort that could cure what ails most economies or combust like a volatile chemical combination.  
    Since his 2010 campaign, Sam Brownback has made it clear that cutting taxes are a priority. Brownback believes that lowering taxes is always the best prompt for fiscal growth, promoting Texas’ recent history as a model. Brownback ignores Texas high property and sales taxes, nationally 4th and 14th highest respectively. Kansas’ effort is significant adaptation of Texas’ model, not the sincerest flattery. The Kansas legislature is experimenting with how low you can push taxes in Brownback’s mindset.
    Brownback’s more conservative allies in the Kansas House have decided if tax cuts are good, bigger tax cuts are better. Abiding that belief, they hoodwinked the Kansas Senate. The Senate, serving as a bulwark against the most aggressive elements of the Brownback/House agenda, thinks tax cuts are good but not as deep as the House preferred. Under guidance from the Governor, the Senate passed a deep tax cut bill to begin the process of negotiation with the House. While the Senate was getting a conference committee together for its negotiations, the House decided to double-cross them by passing the deep cut bill unchanged. Legal and legitimate according to the letter of parliamentary procedure? Yes. Inappropriate and destructive in a legislature built on trust and compromise? Yes.
    Reenter Sam Brownback. The Governor immediately said he would sign the bill unless he got a milder bill that kept a portion of the tax cuts in. The admission was a public statement that the governor was worried the cuts actually went too deep, or the Governor simply would have immediately decided to sign it. Bickering between the House and Senate kept the legislature from sending a compromise bill to Cedar Crest, and the Governor will sign the bill this week.
    Had the Governor steered a compromise bill to passage, he may have cemented a legacy as one of Kansas’ most successful governors. Brownback would have gotten his tax cuts, and he could have soothed ill feelings that have emerged between the legislature’s polar alliance and center right.  Showing a bold vision with a willingness to compromise when necessary to broker deals could have built a bridge within the Republican Party and overcome the only barrier – internecine squabbling  - that keeps the GOP from mandate-level control over Kansas politics. Instead, Brownback has fed the belief that the double-cross was his idea in the first place and that he will do anything to get his way regardless of ethics, procedure or the state’s long-term health.
    The cuts will present the biggest experiment in decades of Kansas politics. While advocates remain unstintingly confident that a new age of job growth and economic fortune is imminent, critics wonder where the state will find the money to fund schools and social welfare spending. Over the course of six years, the legislature estimates the state treasury will shrink by nearly a billion dollars, about one-sixth of the general fund.  
    Page 2 of 2 - Proponents claim the tax cuts will self-finance. Texas’s economic boom is shown as a model, despite big differences between their economic model and the new Kansas plan. If Texas’s fortunes do not replicate in Kansas, then a struggling state will be on the brink of collapse. More than just an experiment, the tax cut package that emerged from the Kansas legislature is a cosmic roll of the policy dice. Seven come eleven.
    Chapman Rackaway is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fort Hays State University.

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