Brownback’s tax cut proposal came as Kansas’s revenues were on an upswing. Spending cuts and a one-cent sales tax passed by Brownback’s Democratic predecessor had combined with economic growth to give Kansas a surplus. Now, Brownback argued, his tax cuts would lead to even more success. “I firmly believe these reforms will set the stage for strong economic growth in Kansas,” he said.
The governor proposed to cut income taxes on the state’s highest earners from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent, to simplify tax brackets, and to eliminate state income taxes on most small business income entirely. In a nod to fiscal responsibility, though, he proposed to end several tax deductions and exemptions, including the well-liked home mortgage interest deduction. This would help pay for the cuts.
Yet as the bill went through the state Senate, these deductions proved too popular, and legislators voted to keep them all. The bill’s estimated price tag rose from about $105 million to $800 million, but Brownback kept supporting it anyway. “I’m gonna sign this bill, I’m excited about the prospects for it, and I’m very thankful for how God has blessed our state,” he said.
Democrats, and some Republicans, weren’t buying it. “It bankrupts the state within two years,” said Rochelle Chronister, a former state GOP chair who helped organize moderate Republicans against Brownback’s agenda. And the House Democratic leader, Paul Davis, laid down a marker. “There is no feasible way that private-sector growth can accommodate the price tag of this tax cut,” he said. “Our $600 million surplus will become a $2.5 billion deficit within just five years.” In return, Brownback’s administration claimed the bill would create 23,000 jobs by 2020, and would lead 35,000 more people to move to Kansas.
After the cuts became law, it was undisputed that Kansas’s revenue collections would fall. But some supply-side analysts, like economist Arthur Laffer, argued that increased economic growth would deliver more revenue that would help cushion this impact.
Yet it’s now clear that the revenue shortfalls are much worse than expected. “State general fund revenue is down over $700 million from last year,” Duane Goossen, a former state budget director, told me. “That’s a bigger drop than the state had in the whole three years of the recession,” he said — and it’s a huge chunk of the state’s $6 billion budget. Goossen added that the Kansas’s surplus, which had been replenished since the recession, “is now being spent at an alarming, amazing rate.”
This is crazy. His paid for bill went from $105 million to $800 million and he still signed it. No wonder Brownback’s popularity has hit rock bottom.