The red dawn in Kansas hasn’t turned out exactly as proponents hoped. From the AP:
Republican legislators in Kansas narrowly approved tax increases Friday, responding to pleas from their leaders and a warning from GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s aides about draconian spending cuts that could result if they didn’t erase a budget deficit. […]
The budget package approved Friday preserves most of the income tax cuts Brownback championed. The plan, drafted by Republicans, raises sales and cigarette taxes to generate $384 million in new revenues during the next fiscal year.
Critics described it as the largest tax increase in state history, but Republican leaders said it should viewed in the context of the past income tax cuts, which one legislative analyst said could be worth about $900 million annually.
Tax increases are a grudging acknowledgment that tax cuts alone are not the magic cure-all elixir some expected. There was nothing wrong with wanting to reduce the cost of government in Kansas, but the “cut taxes at all costs” approach clearly isn’t the answer.
For future reformers, there might be another strategy to follow: focus on better governance as the path to tax cuts, rather than, as is too often the case now, tax cuts as the road to reform. The “cut taxes at all costs” approach is rooted in a kind of conservative despair: government can’t be reformed so all we can do is starve the beast. There may be situations in which that is true, but Kansas isn’t one of them. The GOP controls the governorship, both houses of the legislature, and is deeply entrenched.
What about another path: enacting reforms in the way government works and the role it plays in society, then cutting taxes as these policies either a) reduce the cost of government b) grow the economy and therefore the tax base or c) a mix of the two? The goal would be a virtuous circle: more efficient government plus smarter policies yields faster growth and lower taxes…
Very often, especially at the state level, the real barriers to growth aren’t the cost of income, sales, and property taxes. It’s the weight of regulations administered slowly by inefficient bureaucracies, impeded by NIMBY lawfare and licensing, zoning, and other policies intended to protect entrenched interests. The tort system in many states is a huge barrier to growth and cheap government alike, imposing large burdens on all economic activity and especially on health care. Policies that chip away at the size of bureaucracies by streamlining their operations, limit government to its core functions and then execute those core functions quickly and effectively, and begin to dismantle and where necessary reform and update the encrusted and outdated regulatory structures and methods—and then progressively return the savings to taxpayers in the form of lower taxes…that’s governance. That’s what a political movement looks like that can shift the ground in American debates.
Red Dawn Republicans started out as insurgents—peasants with pitchforks and torches. But political movements have to evolve and grow to do lasting good. In the last few years we’ve seen that the Tea Party and associated insurgent Republican movements were, unlike, say, the much ballyhooed Occupy movements, real political movements that could change the electoral landscape. What remains to be seen is whether these movements can offer real solutions to the country’s problems—as opposed to serving as protest movements that vent steam but don’t lead to lasting changes in the way the country works.
With the tax increases in Kansas, it looks as if Red Dawn 1.0 has come to an end in that state. The question now is whether Kansas Republicans can bring in an upgrade that fixes the bugs and enhances performance.