Gov. Sam Brownback Will Keep Floundering in Kansas Because Reagan

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 16 2014 8:53 AM

Gov. Sam Brownback Will Keep Floundering in Kansas Because Reagan

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Sam Brownback—just like Reagan!

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Manu Raju's report from Kansas is worth a read. Gov. Sam Brownback, elected in the 2010 wave, was bolstered in 2012 when conservatives primaried the moderate Republicans who used to run the state. He pushed through deep tax cuts, nixing business taxes and phasing the top income tax rate from 6.45 percent to 3.9 percent, to prove that the supply-side gospel was due for a second great awakening.

The subsequent economic slump in the state is probably the best-covered in the country. "The immediate effect has been to blow a hole in the state’s finances without noticeable economic growth," reported Peter Coy in Businessweek.* "What's wrong with Kansas' tax reform?" asked Governing magazine. In the hearth of the Koch family, it's impossible to find anyone who'll jiggle the balance sheets and pretend the tax cuts work.

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Back to Raju, who was in Kansas when more than 100 current and former Republican officeholders endorsed, en masse, Democratic candidate Paul Davis. To the disbelief of Republicans and surprise of pollsters, Davis is consistently tied with Brownback in a state that's steadily trended Republican. Brownback's dismissal of Davis indicates just how he thinks about the long term.

[Davis] said he would try to delay the second phase of the income tax cuts in order to spend more money on public schools. Such a delay could add more than $1.2 billion to the revenue of the state, prompting Brownback to paint Davis as a tax-and-spend liberal.
“What’s Paul Davis’ answer? To raise taxes?” said Brownback, who also has backed increased spending for public schools. “A campaign is about choices at the end of the day: Are you going to choose a Reagan approach or an Obama approach?”

So, to delay a tax cut is to "raise taxes," and to be Reaganesque is to rule out any tax raises. The second part of the answer is actually the weakest—anyone who forgets that Ronald Reagan course-corrected on taxes, 11 times, has mentally substituted a fantasy of Ronald Reagan for the one who governed the country for a bit. But maybe this points to Brownback's salvation. Like Scott Walker, he needs to recast his experiments as a twilight struggle againt liberalism. If he loses, so do tax cuts, for now and ever.

*Correction, July 16, 2014: This post originally misspelled Peter Coy’s last name.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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