The Kansas “Experiment”

Soon after then-Senator Sam Brownback saw his presidential ambitions fade in 2007 when Mike Huckabee outflanked him as the candidate of hard-core Iowa anti-choicers and home schoolers, he turned his attentions back home to Kansas. As governor since 2011, he’s presiding over what the New York Times‘ John Eligon is describing as the polar opposite of the vision articulated by the president in his second inaugural address: “a model of conservative governance for other states, if not the nation, to follow.”

Famous as the hardest of anti-choice hardliners, Brownback and his friends have already made Kansas a pioneer in the national state-based effort to restrict abortion rights via every available means. They’ve gained even more notoriety as the national headquarters for RINO-hunters, with a particularly effective purge of state legislative moderates occurring in last year’s primaries.

But Sam Brownback’s main obsession seems to be on the tax front, where he’s long battled to cut income and business levies, and is now firmly on the bandwagon–along with Bobby Jindal and others–for replacing income taxes entirely with higher regressive sales taxes. Brownback’s last tax cut initiative followed a pattern that’s becoming very familiar:

Critics say Mr. Brownback’s tax cut was passed on the backs of low-income Kansans. The bill included the repeal of tax credits for food, rental housing and child care that benefited low-income residents. Because of those repeals, the poorest 20 percent of Kansans will spend an additional 1.3 percent of their incomes, an average of $148 per year, on taxes, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, will see the share of their income that goes toward taxes drop by 2 percent, or $21,087 per year, the report said.

None of this is surprising; when he was running for president, Brownback was a big proponent of highly regressive “flat tax” schemes.

Why are state-level Republicans moving in this direction? Well, they can’t just cut taxes for everybody in sight and run budget deficits like they do in Congress, and they can’t (or won’t) cut spending enough to offset the tax goodies they want to supply to their business allies. Since a good chuck of the conservative “base” is perpetually riled up about the ability of those people to avoid their fair share of the tax burden, selective tax increases aimed at non-Republicans are very good GOP politics, particularly in the state context where it can be claimed such policies are essential to “keep up” with fine progressive jurisdictions like Texas.

It’s classic race-to-the-bottom stuff, and it makes perfect sense that the engineers at the Kansas experiment station for right-wing policymaking want to keep their downward trajectory as rapid as is possible.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.