red dawn flickers
“Starve the Beast” Fails in the Sunflower State

Kansas Republicans have decisively repudiated starve-the-beast tax-cutting that the state’s doctrinaire conservative governor imposed a half-decade ago in the wake of the Tea Party wave. The Hill reports:

Kansas legislators on Tuesday voted to raise taxes by more than a billion dollars, rolling back steep tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) five years ago that sank the state into a deep fiscal hole.

A bipartisan majority in the state Senate and state House voted to override Brownback’s veto of a bill to raise taxes by $1.2 billion.

Brownback’s approach to public budgeting had forced draconian cuts in core public services and tanked the state’s credit rating; only the most committed ideologues can still defend it, as Brownback partisans once did, as an example for other GOP governors to follow.

This does not mean that center-right fiscal policy is a dead end at the state level, as many Democrats are triumphantly pronouncing—far from it. But it does mean that “Red Dawn” reformers need to rethink their approach.

Starve the beast—or an effort to cut off government revenue streams in the hopes that government will need to shrink down the road—might make sense when conservatives are working from a position of weakness. But in Kansas and many other states, Republicans are in a position of unprecedented power. In that context, it makes more sense to reform government first—defang public sector union interests; change NIMBY zoning rules; reduce occupational licensing burdens; reform tort laws and business regulations—and then return to taxpayers the savings produced by smaller government and faster growth.

Brownback’s approach of front-loaded tax cuts will inevitably end up squeezing crucial areas of the budget, including K-12 education and infrastructure, while leaving wasteful bureaucratic fiefdoms untouched. Meanwhile, lower tax rates do not necessarily attract business investment if core functions of the state are stripped down.

The legislature’s veto-overriding repeal of Brownback’s extreme supply-side approach, once heralded as a model for the GOP, marks the end of an era for state-level Republican governance. Policymakers in other states are watching; hopefully they learn the right lessons.

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