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the red dawn flickers
Kansas’ Budget Numbers Keep Looking Worse

Kansas’ experiment with doctrinaire Tea Party, tax-cutting governance has not yielded the results its proponents hoped. The Republic reports:

Kansas plans to delay major highway projects and cut additional spending at state universities, a top aide to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday, after a new pessimistic fiscal forecast blew a hole in the state’s budget. […]

Republicans in some other states have watched the Kansas tax-cutting experiment closely since it slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging as a way to generate business investment and economic growth. But it hasn’t worked out as envisioned and the state has struggled to balance its budget ever since.

Gov. Brownback came into office with the starve-the-beast mentality that the GOP has adhered to since the Reagan years: The idea is that if you cut taxes sufficiently, government will eventually need to be cut down to size. As we’ve said before, however, this philosophy—which is ultimately rooted in a kind of conservative despair—probably gets things backwards in GOP-controlled states like Kansas. Instead of treating tax cuts as a path to government reform, conservatives should focus on reforming the government first, and then cut taxes as savings materialize.

Many of the most serious barriers to job growth at the state level have more to do with regulatory policies than taxes. In particular: zoning restrictions that drive up rents and reduce worker mobility, onerous occupational licensing requirements for working class people, professional guilds that increase the cost of services, strong public sector unions that make government less efficient, and other policies designed to protect entrenched and well-connected interests.

Red states that share Kansas’ goals should learn from the experience of the Sunflower State: Rather than front-loading huge tax cuts, focus on making government fairer, smaller, and more efficient, and then progressively return the savings to taxpayers.

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  • Jim__L

    Has any other attempt to cut state college budgets worked? You can’t tell me there aren’t any savings to be had there.

    I don’t know enough about the situation of Kansas’ highways (compared to, say, California’s), and I suspect the authors from TAI or The Republic do either.

    And 3.9% unemployment is frankly enviable anywhere. I’m curious to see what their labor force participation is.

    All that said, I’m not dogmatically in favor of tax cuts. I just think that the articles cited here aren’t all that convincing.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      “Instead of treating tax cuts as a path to government reform, conservatives should focus on reforming the government first, and then cut taxes as savings materialize.”

      The problem with cutting the government before cutting taxes, is that the entrenched bureaucrats and rent seeking political interests are just that, entrenched. Reagan recognized this from his time as Governor of California, where he had a terrible time with the bureaucrats. And so when he became President, he went immediately for huge tax cuts. And in this way starved out much of the waste and corruption as the parasites fought and squabbled over the reduced plunder. This worked so well that America enjoyed 20 years of increased growth and affluence, before the parasites could fully reestablish themselves.
      If Kansas budget numbers keep looking worse, it’s because the entrenched interests are exceptionally strong at holding their grasp on the public plunder. Obviously there is insufficient pressure so far to make cuts. But I’m sure the tax payers are happy to be paying less, and if the political will can prevail, eventually cuts will be forced through.

      • FriendlyGoat

        The “political will” in Kansas is produced by anti-abortion, anti-gay and pro-gun sentiments. In fact, the Republicans’ “political will” everywhere or anywhere is impossible to create without those social issues as the horses pulling the fiscal wagon. You know it. I know it. Everyone who pays any attention knows it.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Really now? I live here, and can tell you with very little fear of contradiction that you are absolutely wrong. You can certainly find a great many people who are conservatives who DO subscribe to those views, but most simply don’t care and have other (typically economic) concerns that drive their interests. If you get into the countryside (outside the urban enclaves of KC (Kansas suburbs), Topeka and Wichita (the latter two are surprisingly liberal), you will get people who are conservative for cultural (i.e. they don’t like change, not that they are culturally conservative as it were) reasons more than anything else. This is pretty typical of much of the Midwest, actually. Now, go visit parts of the deep south and you might find more of the stereotype you are looking for, but not here.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I am fully aware of the unique financial characteristics of Johnson County, Ks and its particular political propensities for seeking tax cuts without much help from churches, and that Wyandotte and Douglas counties have been known to turn blue in Kansas elections for their particular reasons on an otherwise red map. I also know that if Sam Brownback had not ridden the abortion issue with great fervor that he would never have been either in Congress or Governor in Kansas. There is an old saying that “You can BS your friends and I can BS my friends, but let’s not BS each other.”

          • Jim__L

            FG, it might be useful for you to at least consider the possibility that no one is trying to BS you. My motivations and your motivations are different, and they’re different from others’ too.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Conservatives are always trying to BS me, but Kansas is not a good subject to do it on. But, hey, you aren’t.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Abortion is very rarely an issue in KS elections on either side, outside of a few extremely dedicated enclaves on the right. The idea that Brownback rode the abortion issue to power shows a complete lack of understanding of Brownback specifically and KS politics in general. Look, I don’t like the guy all that much either (though he was certainly an improvement over what we could have gotten), but he is more of a generic conservative than a hard-core abortion warrior. I don’t doubt the intensity of his position on the subject, but if you honestly believe he won the last few elections (especially his most recent reelection….it wasn’t as if he was facing NARAL’s poster child, after all) you really don’t know what you are talking about.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Here is the 2008 election map of Kansas counties:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kansas_Presidential_Election_Results_by_Shaded_County,_2008.svg

            I actually am familiar with Kansas and do know how Brownback first went to Congress in 1994 and became known in that state. Were it not for “the social issues”, you might have Sebelius types there as you once did in part.

          • f1b0nacc1

            So you know how to use Wikipedia! How cute….
            Brownback certainly had interest in the social issues, but he was more a phenomenon related to dissatisfaction with the Sebelius types (otherwise known as the ‘Topeka Mafia’) and the fact that Brownback (whatever his failings, and I remind you that I am NOT a fan of his) was an astonishingly talented politician. Sebelius and her ilk were on their way out, and wouldn’t have survived in any case…that was what enabled Brownback’s rise.

          • FriendlyGoat

            If you are NOT a fan of Brownback, why are you defending him? He is a classic guy whose main focus was right-wing economics, who sported extreme anti-abortion views to sell the economics, bought a margin of votes on that issue to be elected to several different offices and then paid those pro-life people back in 2011 with everything he could do for them from the governor’s office. This is not an abnormal pattern in red states—-but Brownback is here in TAI’s news for having his state economic ideas producing backfire.

          • Tom

            Perhaps because you’re being ridiculous, and meddling in things ye ken nothing about.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Are you “Tom” of “every Tom, Dick & Harry”? What the heck are you doing HERE with this line other than seriously trying to be part of “Tom, Jim and Somebody Or Other”? I mean, you are not even in this discussion, you have added nothing to it (and neither did Jim).
            You need a new hobby better than following me around for a pile on.

          • Tom

            Terribly sorry, but I, like you, am a frequenter of this blog, and read its comments section hoping to get some insight, because sometimes there is some.
            Sometimes it comes from you. This, except inadvertently, was not one of those times–and then you doubled down and got all annoyed when you got called on it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Okay, “terribly sorry” from here too. I really want to be a “friendly goat” and should not get perturbed by anything here. It is true that I have attracted my own Tom, Jim and Fred (real names) who get after me on a regular basis with somewhat similar complaints about my liberal tendencies. But that’s why I’m here—-to practice writing something from the liberal side. So I’m glad if I ever resonate with any of you guys and must accept that most of the time I won’t.

          • Jim__L

            I was pointing out that Conservatives could be Conservative for their own reasons, different but genuine, and are not trying to “BS” you.

            I intended that to have a constructive effect on the conversation (to “add … to it”), and in fact it seems to have elicited a constructive response (if not entirely constructive) from f1b.

            If that’s “nothing”, it’s not for lack of good faith on my part or refusal to engage on f1b’s.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I really am in the grips of paranoia that “Conservatism” is trying to BS me (and everyone else) every day. I have this conclusion because of the long list of platform planks from official conservatism which to me are unconvincing—-especially when added together.

            But, being a liberal, I should never get perturbed at those who discuss these individually from the other side. As for f1b, he and I have chased each other around the barn before—-both “over-doing” the animosity and pulling back from the brink.

          • Anthony

            Heads up: “several studies have documented the ‘attitude polarization effect’ that happens when you give a single body of information to people with different partisan leanings. Liberals (and I use both terms cautiously) and conservatives actually move further apart when they rate quality of arguments made by candidates or when they evaluate arguments which may reinforce predispositions of either side.” (Taber and Lodge, 2006)

            So, Friendly Goat, it helps to envision tentative audience and though site may be offering less, I yet find your contribution informing.

          • FriendlyGoat

            One reason for for me hanging out in a place like this is the nature of the subjects which come up. Another is the small size of the comment section. I don’t like going where there are 400 comments or 4000. I never imagine I am going to convert anyone here, but as someone said, “I don’t know what I think until I read what I wrote”.
            I don’t see the folks here as an “audience”. Most of the regulars here are “venting” from the right. I’m just “venting” from the left.

          • Anthony

            Perhaps audience is too specific a description though it’s intended to be general. Nevertheless, vent on. Secondarily, I comment where I find interest (size or audience very rarely a concern). Keep writing as you think.

          • Jim__L

            FG, your vision of “Conservativism” is a bogeyman, particularly compared to real courts that are harassing and persecuting people with for having a conscience.

            Democrats have their own set of strange bedfellows alliances — none stranger than the ones you seem to have in your own political philosophy.

          • f1b0nacc1

            You really are quite silly. You are confused because you simply refuse to move away from your beloved stereotypes, and hence you get a ‘does not compute’ error when confronted with proof that they make no sense. Conservatives are a wildly diverse group, and even within those subgroups they aren’t terribly doctrinaire, so it isn’t difficult at all to see how someone who wants free markets for instance (i.e. low regulation) doesn’t necessarily support strong anti-abortion positions, or how a libertarian wouldn’t agree with some social conservative positions. I don’t support much of Brownbacks social conservative cant (and note that most polling shows much of KS doesn’t either, he has had the good fortune to run – most of the time – against the liberal Republican Topeka set for most of his nominations and against looney Dems on the left for general elections), but many of his economic positions are not palpable nonsense. Huge tax cuts are in principle not a bad idea, but where Brownback has failed was not following them with big spending cuts (which weren’t entirely practical, given the way the legislature works….there is a blocking minority among the Dems and their allies in the liberal GOP minority), and the intervention of the courts on education funding. The notion that Brownback simply rode into power on the back of an antiabortion tidal wave ignores political reality in KS, and indeed in much of the Midwest. You might have better luck in some of the deep south states with that argument, but I rather doubt it even there. Try Utah perhaps? The problem remains…this doesn’t fit your narrative of all conservatives being the same….
            I am a low-regulation, low-tax, low-state intervention (pseudo-libertarian), conservative. I find abortion deeply troubling, but I don’t believe in the state banning it as I don’t want state interference in such things. I want low taxes and lower regulation because I worry about the state destroying everything it touches, and because I share the position of the founders that liberty trumps everything else. It is easy enough to find other conservatives who share enough common ground to build coalitions and compromise (if you look at the GOP for instance, a LOT of it is compromise), but find the authoritarian impulse of the left deeply off-putting….
            If you find that confusing, it says a great deal more about you than I think you intend to admit…
            To use a phrase beloved by one of your compadres, we are done here

          • FriendlyGoat

            Like I told you, I am far more familiar with Kansas than I am willing to recount here—-because I don’t dwell on personal stuff in comment sections. But I know as much about it as you do—-by experience.

            If Brownback had run for any of his offices as pro-choice, he would not have won any of them. His economic ideas have their fans—-but never enough to actually elect tax cutters on that issue alone. Even Donald Trump has been obliged to flip on the subject of abortion and he knows why. Everyone knows why.

      • Jim__L

        Well, that’s the thing. The compromise upon which our government seems to be based, is “Hey Democrats, we’ll let you maintain high spending if you let us maintain low taxes”.

        Hence, the Tea Party. And, hence Bernie Sanders.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I live in Kansas City, about 100 meters on the MO side of the border. What passes for analysis here is woefully short of the mark.
      Most of the problem with the KS budget is due to primary and secondary education spending, spending that is driven by the courts (decidedly liberal courts, courtesy our experiments with Gov Sibelius years ago) not the legislature of the governor. Arguing that most of the spending is Tea Party driven is palpable nonsense, most of the KS legislature involved in the budgeting is an unholy alliance between the Dems (basically the Overland Park and Topeka representatives) and a small group of liberal Republicans. The Tea Party types are fighting this, but at the end of the day they simply don’t have the political muscle to make it happen. One can certainly argue about whether these are good ideas or not, but the notion that there is some Tea Party cabal driven by retrograde social needs imposing an austerity on the rest of the state is nothing more than nonsense.
      I drive daily on the roads in both KS and MO….both are subjected to an extensive amount of construction, and it would be difficult for you to tell them apart if you weren’t able to identify what state you were in

      • Andrew Allison

        Anybody who measures their distance from MO in meters is clearly a subversive [grin].But you’re right about the so-called “analysis”. Compared to the parlous, deep blue, State of IL, Kansas is in pretty good shape. The recovery from recklessly spending money they don’t have is going to be painful for all the States, but some (blue) pigs will suffer more than others.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Actually I am *in* MO, I am about 100 meters *from* KS. Since I don’t have kids, living in Overland Park (the portion of KS directly across the street from me) would be far more expensive tax-wise, since they actually have higher local taxes to pay for their schools. The KCPS schools (technically I live in KC, since most of the MO suburbs in the south were annexed a long, long time ago) are incredibly bad (funny thing, Indigo-blue city government paying for those schools….how could that happen?), but with a reasonably high income, you end up being taxed more heavily in Overland Park (the KS suburb which isn’t in the KC public school system) and getting much better in return
          Yep, the blue pigs will pay a very high price when the money runs out, but the rest of us had better be well protected when that happens.

  • Beauceron

    Fascinating piece, and a story I suspect I’d miss on my usual round of news. So thanks.

  • qet

    Republicans cut taxes for the same reason Democrats raise them–because the resulting burdens are diffuse. While TAI is absolutely right about the anti-prosperity, anti-liberty effects of the regulatory regime, each and every one of those regulations (just like each and every item on the budget) is dear to someone, someone who made it his life’s work to obtain and who will fight to the end to preserve it, who will be able to count on the support of local and national media (and social media) to defend its absolute and utter necessity and goodness. TAI is right, but to do what TAI suggests is going to take individuals of heroic proportion; it cannot be done by ordinary political officeholders.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The reason that Republicans do not “reform government” (aka cut all kinds of spending) first is that if they did that, they would lose the very elections which might otherwise enable them to cut taxes. They sometimes get away with cutting taxes first (as both Reagan and George W. Bush did early in their first terms) by promising some sort of economic miracles to be produced by the tax cuts.

    THE PROBLEM is that high-end tax cuts do not produce economic miracles in the modern era. At the federal level (in the Reagan and Bush eras anyway), spending continued to stimulate the economy even without benefit of revenue from whatever taxes they cut—-producing the much-criticized deficits and debt. But states cannot pull that off in the same way—–lacking, as they do, both imbalanced budgets and a magic Fed. So Kansas is in a mess that even TAI now finds need to somehow explain (but can’t).

    You can imagine Trump or Cruz going into the general election this fall with a SPECIFIC list of spending cuts they promise to enact, running say, into trillions over a decade, then saying that after the savings materialize they will consider tax cuts. You CAN imagine that, right? It DOES sound like good Republican talk, right? It WOULD win them the election, right?

    • qet

      You are correct in all this FG. When it gets down to it, a majority of voters in this country are far more afraid of losing their own government benefits than they are hopeful that radical reform would produce enough prosperity to make those benefits unnecessary. One reason is time: most voters need their money tomorrow, and can’t wait the decade it would take for radical reform to produce results. The entire economy has adapted itself to all of the government benefits and not even Republican voters are willing to give theirs up, so politics consists mostly in pretending that your party will cut the benefits of/raise the taxes of the supporters of the other party but leave yours intact.

      But at least the Republican side agonizes over this paradox; at least some of them do, some of the time. On the Democrat side, we have what has become the tradition: Hillary is promising more spending, and Bernie is promising way more than that. Neither can deliver. It would be as if you had two friends and one extra ticket to Game 7. Friend 1 says, take me, and I’ll give you a billion dollars. Friend 2 says, take me and I’ll give you a million dollars. Neither friend has the money. Whom do you pick? If you’re a Hillary supporter you pick Friend 2. You say, Friend 1 is too unrealistic, and I’d look like an idiot to rely on his promise. But Friend 2, being “less unrealistic” (mathematically that is true, and, being a man of science, you always go with the math), is therefore “more realistic,” and grounded, bipartisan non-extremists like yourself pride themselves on always choosing the more realistic. Neither has the money, but it would be harder to get the one billion Friend 1 doesn’t have than the one million Friend 2 doesn’t have, so there is (again, the math doesn’t lie), a more rational basis for hope that somehow Friend 2 will make good than that Friend 1 will. So there is a second data point (data-driven reason is what you’re all about) in favor of choosing Friend 2. Now, Friend 3 says only that he’ll give you face value for the ticket but you’ll have to buy your own beer. You know he has the money and you know you can afford the beer (but not as much beer as you;d prefer if you also have to pay for the hot dog; you deeply resent being put in that position), but you will never pick him. It will be far more satisfying to spend the week before the game indulging your hope that somehow Friend 1 was going to come up with the money and imagining how you’ll spend it, than just bow to reality from the start and spend the whole week knowing that at the end there will be only two beers, or one beer and one hot dog. Reality and “realistic” are not the same thing, and it’s more gratifying to be “realistic” than real.

      Thus endeth the lesson. 🙂

      • adk

        In other words, the real problem is with us, “the people”, as a whole.

        Why tax reform is doomed
        By Robert J. Samuelson
        …Our hideously complex tax code has staying power. It survives not because it serves the nation’s best interest, but because it placates so many groups that make up the nation.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-tax-reform-is-doomed/2016/04/17/191c5dfc-0321-11e6-9203-7b8670959b88_story.html

      • FriendlyGoat

        !) “Endeth” is welcome with respect to Friend 1 and Friend 2 and Friend 3 and baseball and tickets and beer and hot dog and playing the claims of friends against each other.

        2) If you can prove (even seriously predict) where the prosperity would come from after we wait “a decade” for radical tax reform to produce result, you might not have so much resistance. Seriously, we need realistic projections of what industries and endeavors are going to flourish and hire people at livable wages to the point that government benefits or jobs or programs are unnecessary.

        We need, as I have mentioned here before, some simple lists—-lists of real industries, real products/services, real employment levels, real employee earnings in order for your first paragraph to be credible. Nobody has them in this country or any country. So I ain’t for killin’ the government side of all modern economies until somebody can show something other than fast-spun generalities.

    • Andrew Allison

      Stuff-and-nonsense.

  • Boritz

    “and then progressively return the savings to taxpayers.”

    The taxpayers don’t want this. It is tantamount to closing the casino. The gamblers are convinced they are going to win or at least have a good time losing. Shutting down the game and making them walk away with the money they brought is just no fun.

  • Fat_Man

    They could save a lot of money, and the lives of a lot of children by decimating 9in the old Roman sense) the Universities. Fire every tenth administrator and humanities professor. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Preferably 9 out of 10, but your proposal is a good start.

    • Enemy Leopard

      As far as the humanities professors are concerned, the administrators have been pursuing that strategy for decades now.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’d say that cutting additional spending at state universities was a sign of success, not failure. I think that Reagan was right and the only way to get the beast of excessive government spending under control is a restricted diet.

    • Jim__L

      How big will our National Debt get before that works, though? =(

      • Andrew Allison

        I think the real question is whether states will be permitted to declare bankruptcy (PR is the stalking horse, but unloading IL’s obligations is the initial objective). This will destroy the Muni bond market and force cities and states to live within their means unless Uncle Sugar bails out the States, at which point T-bill will go Greek.

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