When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback first offered his plan to revive the Kansas economy, he famously called it a “real live experiment” in tax and spending policy.
All Kansans know Brownback’s experiment failed. Dramatically cutting business taxes while raising other taxes for consumers did virtually nothing to increase employment relative to other states.
It did leave state lawmakers struggling to cover massive budget deficits — work that continues even now and won’t end for another generation.
But tax cuts were only one half of the Brownback experiment. Aided by conservatives in the Legislature, Kansas eviscerated the state’s social safety net: privatizing Medicaid, imposing new restrictions on welfare benefits, insisting on a tough food stamp work requirement.
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Humiliating the poor seemed to be a particular focus. For a time, the state told welfare recipients they could withdraw only $25 at a time from an automated teller machine, a decision that prompted anger and derision across the nation before it was repealed.
Did it work? No. The number of people living in poverty in Kansas actually went up, the Census Bureau says, from 11.4 percent in 2013 to 14.2 percent in 2015. During the same period, the poverty rate in Missouri was cut almost in half.
Most Kansas voters reacted with horror to these outcomes. So it’s beyond distressing that President Donald Trump has proposed a national budget that mirrors the Kansas disaster in almost every important way.
Cutting taxes is the most obvious comparison. We don’t know all the specifics of the Trump tax proposal — details are still being worked out — but earlier plans called for reducing the number of income tax brackets and lowering rates. That’s exactly what Kansas tried.
Trump also wants to cut corporate taxes. Crucially, he also wants so-called “pass through” income to qualify for the lower corporate rate, a replication of the detested and unfair “LLC exemption” in Kansas.
Won’t these federal tax cuts blow a hole in the budget, just like they did in Kansas? Of course not, the administration claims. The cuts will be revenue-neutral, we’re told, but will prompt enough growth to add $2 trillion to government revenues over a 10-year period.
Please. All the president needs to do is say the words “shot of adrenaline,” and the Kansas budget mess writ large will be complete.
But we can’t stop here. The president’s budget slashes safety net spending, too, just like lawmakers did in Kansas.
The Trump budget cuts Medicaid in half over 10 years, whacks at food stamps, cuts welfare payments, squeezes disability payments and decimates a handful of lesser programs.
Kansans know what happens next. It’s ugly.
We don’t really blame the president for this mess. He doesn’t appear to be steeped in the details of the budget document, especially since parts of it directly contradict his campaign promises.
But budget director Mick Mulvaney must know what this budget attempts to accomplish: turning the U.S. into Kansas.
Take it from those who live and work in Kansas. This doesn’t end well. America has been warned.