This week, Congress — including Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins — is considering tax legislation with far reaching consequences. According to analysis from the nonpartisan Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, many middle-class families will see tax increases, while the wealthiest 1 percent get an average tax cut of more than $64,000 by 2027.
But what’s most striking is how much this plan resembles Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s disastrous 2012 tax experiment. Like that plan, the current congressional proposal slashes the income tax rate for the wealthy and cuts the top rate for “pass-through” income earned by wealthy individuals, including President Donald Trump.
We all know what happened here at home: We plunged into a statewide budget crisis and saw deep funding cuts for education, health care, infrastructure and environmental protection. Our state’s economy slowed down, our credit rating dropped and job creation underperformed nearly every neighboring state. So why is Jenkins — and the rest of the Kansas delegation — going along with congressional leaders? They already know how this story ends.
And end abysmally it does. Take our once-stellar schools. Districts were forced to eliminate programs, lay off staff and even shorten the school week. In fact, our state Supreme Court found the funding levels unconstitutional. We have amazing teachers at my children’s school — Randolph Elementary in Topeka — but they simply cannot be expected to do more with less. Our teachers are among the most important influences for our kids. They deserve our respect, our care and, importantly, proper funding to do their jobs.
Unfortunately, teachers aren’t alone. As a public employee since 2005, I find it a shame to see our workforce reduced by 25 percent compared to 2002 levels. That means 25 percent fewer social workers for vulnerable children, 25 percent fewer correctional officers, 25 percent fewer transportation employees to repair highways.
More still, the Kansas Department of Children and Families lost 70 children through privatized foster care. No one in Kansas is testing potentially radioactive samples surrounding the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant, because the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s radiochemistry lab is unstaffed due to budget cuts. These are losses both unacceptable and preventable.
We can expect the same from congressional Republicans’ tax plan. They’ve laid it out plainly in their budget blueprints. Both the GOP and Trump budgets call for huge cuts to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, education and potentially even Meals on Wheels. The same representatives writing the tax bill have signaled they will cut Social Security and health programs next year.
As the only member from Kansas on the House Ways and Means Committee, Jenkins has a responsibility to educate her colleagues of what happened in Kansas, yet she so far has continued to parrot talking points from House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Americans sometimes envision public employees as faceless bureaucrats making our lives harder and lines longer. The reality is they provide services we need — and often don’t know we depend upon. Snow removal. Safe drinking water. Take it from me: Public employees are some of the most dedicated, professional and selfless people.
What happened in Kansas is a deeply personal story for me, because every single person I know in Kansas has been affected. As a mom of three, I saw firsthand what this experiment did to my children and countless other families like mine.
During my testimony before the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, I asked a few questions: What kind of people are we? What kind of a country are we? Do we leave people behind based on circumstance, and then vilify them for it? Or do we move forward together as one?
It’s up to our own Kansas representatives in the House and Senate to make sure the rest of the country doesn’t have to suffer the way our state has. I hope they take their responsibility seriously.
Sarah LaFrenz is a biologist, union activist and mother of three.