Sam Brownback, Kansas’ governor may leave, if his appointment is ever approved by the U.S. Senate for a position in the Trump administration, but even if the appointment is never approved, term limits in Kansas mean he won’t be governor after this year. The budget he proposed earlier this month will be his final budget proposal. A lot of legislators, even those in his own party, are ready to see the last of Brownback’s budgets and his theories of public finance. You will remember that his rollback of the state’s income taxes in 2012 and 2013—what he described as a real live experiment in supply-side economics—utterly failed.
After Brownback slashed taxes, the state’s economy failed to grow, the state ran out of money, and the state’s supreme court found Kansas school funding unconstitutionally inadequate.
Last year in a miracle of bipartisan consensus, members of the legislature addressed the state’s financial crisis by overriding Brownback’s veto of a $600 million tax increase. The legislature infused $485 million into the state’s school budget. But the state supreme court ruled that $485 million is not nearly enough.
In a column earlier this week in the Wichita Eagle, Duane Goossen, Kansas’ former budget director, addresses the lingering school funding crisis: “‘Adequate’ and ‘predictable’ hardly describe school funding in the last decade. Base state aid per pupil has dropped from $4,400 in 2009 to barely over $4,000 today. No wonder the Kansas Supreme Court ruled lawmakers are not living up to their constitutional requirement to adequately fund schools.”
So, how does Governor Brownback plan to address the constitutional crisis in which the Supreme Court says it will close the state’s public schools unless the state begins to live up to its constitutional responsibility to fund public education?
Well, Brownback released a proposed budget earlier this month that does raise education funding over five years by $600 million, but he continues to put his faith in economic growth as the way to pay for it. John Hanna of the Associated Press reports, “Departing Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is counting on growing tax revenues from a strong national economy to pay for his proposal to increase spending on public schools, stoking an open revolt… among fellow Republicans in the Legislature. The term-limited conservative Republican governor released budget proposals that were supposed to flesh out his plan to phase in a $601 million increase in education funding to meet a court mandate. But his recommendations contained no way to pay for the increase other than relying on growing revenues, and no fiscal projections beyond mid-2019.”
Hanna describes how this would work, according to Brownback: “Brownback’s proposed $16.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning in July would leave the state with a small cushion of cash reserves at the end of June 2019, without requiring another tax increase. Lawmakers approved a $600-million-a-year income tax increase last year over Brownback’s veto to help balance the budget.”
Legislators are predictably angry. After Brownback’s promise that the 2012 tax cuts would stimulate the economy, revenues crashed and lawmakers now point out that at the same time public education suffered, so did funding for transportation, social services, universities, and public safety. They need to increase these budget lines as well as make up for inadequate school funding.
The Witchata Eagle‘s Jonathan Shorman interviewed some of the legislative leaders in Brownback’s own party, politicians who realize another tax increase will be needed—on top of what they passed last year as they overrode Brownback’s veto. But this time, Brownback won’t be there to take the heat. Senate President, Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, is quoted as calling Brownback’s new proposal, “a very political budget.”
Jim Denning, the Senate Majority Leader is more direct: “So he’s put us in a very bad spot. His financial acumen as we know is very low, but this is reckless. He’s giving everybody a sense of false hope that he’s just solved the school issue when he’s made it a hell of a lot worse.”
Duane Goossen, the former budget director is a little more charitable to Brownback, despite blaming him for launching the experiment in supply-side tax slashing in the first place: “(S)tate legislators first had to reverse the governor’s disastrous tax experiment. That was Step 1, last year’ s job… Step 1 in fixing Kansas finances… brought Kansas out of crisis mode, but did not fully close a huge gap between revenue and expenses. Adding $600 million of additional spending into the equation widens the gap further. But therein lies the challenge of Step 2. Legislators must both add money and balance the budget. Brownback is correct in part. New school money has to be budgeted. But to do that realistically and responsibly requires more revenue, if not during this session, then definitely in the next. Brownback skipped over the hard part, and kept mum about his own culpability in creating revenue problems for the state in the first place.”
I wonder if President Trump and members of Congress—who reveled in their December tax reform—have paid any attention at all to what continues to be the matter with Kansas as it tries to crawl out from its failed experiment in supply-side tax cutting?