It could have been different, but it wasn’t different.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s supply-side economics “real live experiment” in Kansas has not lacked critics since the unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy and elimination of taxes on certain business income went into effect in 2012. However, even in the midst of slashed spending, regressive tax raising to balance budgets, stagnating job growth, and month after month of disappointing revenue reports, “seldom was heard a discouraging word” from those lawmakers who supported the governor’s tax plan.
Until recently. Mounting tension between GOP lawmakers and the administration was first evident in votes this legislative session to override a few of the governor’s vetoes. Subsequently, the Senate president said that lawmakers are “growing weary” and would “prefer to see some real solutions coming from the governor’s office.” And former allies in the Senate introduced a bill to partly roll back the governor’s tax exemption for business pass-through income.
While opposition to Brownback’s approach to the economy is not news, disagreement from these actors is significant as it brought tax reform into the realm of conceivability this legislative session. This proved to be short-lived, however, as lawmakers wrapped up the session with a vote against reforming the business pass-through income exemption and the passage of a budget early Monday that relies on delayed pension payments, raiding the State Highway Fund, and budget cuts to be made by the governor.
Kansas remains among the list of states willing to compromise the current needs of its residents and its future financial well-being simply to avoid raising taxes. It’s possible that the opposition that arose this legislative session is indicative of a tide change among conservative lawmakers that may surge in the coming months or that fed up Kansas voters will demand change this November. In the meantime, not only will Brownback’s policies fail to yield promised economic benefits, they will also continue to erode the foundation of the state’s economic future with further cuts to critical investments in higher education, transportation infrastructure and human services. States that haven't already taken the appropriate course corrections to avoid a similar fate would be wise to do so.