It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Now, Kansas politics looks more like Missouri — a legislature at odds with its governor. And Missouri in some ways looks more like Kansas.
Kansas voters elected a conservative Republican governor and a conservative Republican-controlled legislature. Together, they were to be a juggernaut.
Something has gone terribly amiss. They are not at all of one mind.
That was to be expected in Missouri, where the legislature is controlled by conservative Republicans, while the governor is a Democrat.
But in Kansas? The governor helped elect many legislators, who now have gone over to the dark side, passing bigger cuts in spending than Gov. Sam Brownback requested.
Brownback has a vision. He sees in the future a state booming with increased jobs, increased population and increased tax revenue.
He says he will get there by cutting income taxes eventually to zero, starting with last year’s massive tax cuts. But — and this is a big but — before and possibly after the so-called boom occurs, Brownback admits there will be a huge shortfall of tax revenue.
That’s why he wanted to make a “temporary” sales tax increase permanent. It will ensure that at least some of the lost revenue will be covered. In the end, the balking Kansas House capitulated, keeping nearly all the sales tax in place.
Meanwhile, Missouri legislators, concerned about how dramatically lower taxes in Kansas will affect border cities like Kansas City, St. Joseph and Joplin, have come up with their own tax-cut plan, just vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, but possibly to be overridden by the legislature.
Brownback and Nixon, strange as it may seem, share a common philosophy. Neither wants to drastically cut the services the states are now providing.
Brownback, though a conservative, has never barnstormed the state calling for slashing the budget. He has been more interested in his “pro growth” strategy. In fact, he barnstormed the state to keep the budget of higher education intact.
Nixon has been a staunch supporter of keeping his state’s budget fairly constant and has no stomach for budget cutting, nor can he justify tax cuts when the budget is already under pressure. He clearly is not a believer in “supply-side economics,” which says you get more revenue by cutting taxes.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, there are two movements afoot. One is Brownback’s naive belief he can reduce income taxes to zero, generate fantastic growth but not have to sharply cut spending.
Then, there is the other vision. The pro-growth agenda is not the highest priority of the ultra-conservative legislators, as well as the influential Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the billionaire Koch brothers of Wichita, and their allied organizations, like Americans for Prosperity.
They looked at the massive tax cuts as an excuse to slash spending. Their motto is: “We do not have a tax problem, we have a spending problem.”
That is not the Brownback vision. And that’s why there is a chasm.
The hard-line spending cutters just slashed the budgets of Kansas higher education and prisons, not at all what Brownback was seeking. And that is likely just the beginning of deep spending cuts, as future years face increasing deficits.
In Missouri, conservative legislators want to become more like Kansas, with tax cuts, followed by big budget cuts. That certainly is not Nixon’s vision.
Nixon did the right thing by vetoing his legislature’s efforts to jump off the cliff to compete with the Kansas experiment. That tax-slashing experiment is bound to fail, and in the long run, Missouri will come out ahead by providing a better state to live in, and thus will generate more economic development compared with Kansas, not less.
Kansas is destined to buckle under from both the ongoing tax-cutting fanaticism of Brownback and the ongoing budget-cutting fanaticism of the ultra-conservative block.
This is a border war that Missouri is destined to win, if it just will be patient, while the Kansas experiment falls on its face.