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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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