If the states are, as Justice Louis Brandeis famously once said, “laboratories of democracy,” then Kansas has just proven that “trickle down economics” doesn’t work. Like other forms of snake oil and quackery, it should be banished from any serious discussion about the economic remedies we need to fix whatever ails us.
In case you missed it, Kansas’ Republican-dominated legislature has just handed Gov. Sam Brownnback a huge defeat, overriding his veto of a bill that would finally raise taxes after years of starvation budgets that resulted in Kansas schools running on shortened schedules and crumbling infrastructure going unfixed. (Let me add: Tennessee just did a similar thing with the official passage of Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, our first gas tax increase in almost 30 years. It appears Republicans have finally gotten the message that stuff needs to be paid for, and cutting taxes isn’t the way to raise money. I know, weird, right?)
Unlike Tennessee, however, Kansas’ governor remained stubbornly attached to the idea that cutting taxes has some miraculous stimulus effect on a state’s economy. Kansas citizens were willing to give Brownback the benefit of the doubt until they had finally had enough, and let their frustrations be known in the last election. Now, moderate Republicans could join forces with their Democratic colleagues to make a veto override happen:
The legislation undoes the essential components of Brownback’s reforms, which he famously described as part of a “real-live experiment” in conservative governance.
Brownback had reduced the number of brackets for the state’s marginal rates on income from three to two. The legislature will restore the third bracket, increasing taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents from 4.6 percent to 5.2 percent this year and 5.7 percent next year.
Marginal rates on less affluent Kansan households will increase as well, from 4.6 percent to 5.25 percent by next year for married taxpayers making between $30,000 and $60,000 a year and from 2.7 percent to 3.1 percent for those earning less than that.
The legislation also scraps a plan to bring those rates down even further in future years, one of Brownback’s promises to conservative supporters.
Finally, the legislature eliminated a cut Brownback had put in place to help small businesses. Analysts said that the provision had become a loophole, as many Kansans were able to avoid paying taxes entirely by pretending to be small businesses.
Initially, the state forecast that about 200,000 small businesses would take advantage of the break. As it turned out, about 330,000 entities would use Kansas’s new rule. That discrepancy suggests that tens of thousands of workers claimed that their incomes were from businesses they owned rather than from salaries.
“What we were able to do in the last 24 hours can allow us to start down that road, to begin repairing all the damage done after living with Gov. Brownback’s failed tax experiment for five years,” said Annie McKay, who is the president of Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group in Topeka.
Tuesday’s vote was a rebuke not only for Brownback, but also for Republicans in Washington who have advocated similar cuts in taxes at the national level — including President Trump.
This should forever end the discussion about tax cuts being some magical tonic to lure businesses and increase revenue. Trickle down economics is a fairy tale. Or, for people like our president who prefer a visual representation, let me offer this: