Even Norquist Doesn’t Like Brownback’s Fiscal Policies

Two prominent Republican governors staked their careers on a plan to slash or eliminate income taxes and replace them with regressive consumption taxes. One of them, Bobby Jindal, failed miserably in that effort, though he did get some tax cuts enacted, and eventually wound up with a huge budget shortfall he refused to consider closing with any net tax increases (or repeal of previous tax cuts) because he didn’t want Grover Norquist to rain on the presidential campaign that gave Jindal relief from being in a state where he was cordially loathed across the political spectrum. As you may recall, Bobby eventually forced the legislature to adopt some phony-baloney “tax credits” no one will ever receive in a maneuver that would have embarrassed Bernie Madoff. But Norquist signed off on the whole mess, and now Jindal’s back to his desperate effort to rise above 1 or 2 percent in national GOP polls so he’s not consigned to the “kiddie table” candidate debate on August 6.

Meanwhile, Sam Brownback got his tax package through the Kansas legislature, created a fiscal disaster even worse than Louisiana’s, if that’s possible, and then “adjusted” by pushing through a bunch of regressive tax increases (including sales taxes) without bothering to disguise them with gimmicks. At the Atlantic, Russell Berman describes the aftermath:

By the time it was finally over, Brownback appeared—at least to his many critics—to be in denial. As described by the Wichita Eagle, the governor refused to acknowledge that he had signed a tax increase. “Look at the totality of the picture,” he said, referring to the far deeper tax cuts he had signed in previous years. “When you look at that, it is a tax cut.”

Nobody else saw it that way. “Not only is this a tax increase, it is the largest tax increase in state history,” [Kansas Senate Democratic leader] Hensley responded in a statement. When I called up Will Upton, the state-affairs manager for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, he described the budget that Brownback signed in almost exactly the same words.

The future in both states looks grim. The phony elements of Jindal’s budget will fade, leaving a new fiscal gap. The economic boom Brownback promised as a product of his initial tax cuts isn’t happening, despite the national recovery. At least Louisiana will be rid of Jindal at the end of this year; you half-expect movers to show up at the Mansion every week or so, as often happens with unsuccessful college football coaches in the South. Brownback’s second term will go on through 2018.

To Grover Norquist, Kansas’ budget is the disaster and Louisiana’s is a success, but it’s really hard to pick which is worse. As always, though, the brunt of Republican mismanagement will be on people who didn’t vote for either of these birds.

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.