What Kansas's rebounding economy tells us about the farce of Republican tax cuts

What Kansas's rebounding economy tells us about the farce of Republican tax cuts
Portrait of Kansas Governor Laura Kelly

Kansas had one of the worst economies in the Midwest when, in June 2017, its state legislature reversed former Gov. Sam Brownback’s disastrous tax cuts for the wealthy. And according to CNBC America’s Top States for Business study, Kansas is now the state with the most improved economy in the U.S. and is enjoying a budget surplus.

In 2018, Kansas’ economy came in at an embarrassing #45 in the Top States for Business study and at #35 overall — and since then, it has improved by 16 points in general as well as by 16 points in the economy category, according to CNBC.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a centrist Democrat, was delighted with the news, telling CNBC, “We are returning to our roots as a very progressive, thoughtful, forward-looking state.” The Democrat went on to say, “Kansas, for years now, has been at the low end of all economic metrics. That’s changing.”

The economic problems that Kansas suffered under Brownback’s watch were the exact opposite of what the far-right Republican claimed would happen. When the GOP-controlled state legislature dramatically cut taxes for Kansas’ wealthiest residents and its largest businesses and Brownback signed the tax cuts into law, Republicans insisted that the state would boom economically. Instead, Kansas’ economy plummeted, and in 2017, a combination of Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature reversed the tax cuts.7

Brownback, who resigned as governor in January 2018, was wildly unpopular during his final year in office. According to a Morning Consult poll, his approval rating was only 25% in July 2017. In contrast, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — a Republican in a very Democratic state where Sen. Elizabeth Warren was reelected by a landslide in 2018 — enjoyed 71% approval in that poll and was cited as the most popular governor in the United States.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Kansas had a $351 million revenue shortfall for fiscal year 2018. But with the reversal of Brownback’s tax cuts having taken effect, Kansas now has a budget surplus.

However, some Republicans in Kansas’ state legislature are pushing to restore some of the tax cuts and are arguing that the problem with Brownback’s economic program wasn’t the tax cuts — it was a failure to reduce spending.

A major shock in Kansas politics occurred in 2018 when the deeply Republican state elected a Democratic governor: Kelly, who defeated far-right Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach (Kansas’ former secretary of state and a one-time promoter of the racist “birther” conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama wasn’t really born in the United States).

Although Kansas’ economy has improved, according to CNBC’s study, Kelly stressed that there is still work to be done in that state.

“We will be studying our entire tax structure because it’s way out of whack right now,” Kelly told CNBC. “We want to take us back to what works for Kansas, which is really essentially what we call the three-legged stool: balance out our property taxes, our sales tax and our income taxes.”

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