The nation’s most aggressive experiment in conservative economic policy is dead.
Republican majorities in the Kansas legislature on Tuesday night voted to reverse the deep tax cuts engineered by Governor Sam Brownback five years ago, blaming them for blowing a hole in the state’s budget that threatened the viability of its schools and infrastructure. Brownback, a conservative first elected in 2010 on a platform of phasing out Kansas’s income tax entirely, stood by his vision even in spite of an electoral backlash last year. But a coalition of Democrats and newly-elected Republicans overrode his veto of legislation to raise $1.2 billion in revenue by hiking personal income taxes and repealing a widely-criticized exemption for small-business owners. Tax rates will now go up to levels near where they were before Brownback took office.
The stark shift in policy was months, if not years, in the making. Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House and Senate came within a few votes of undoing the tax cuts in February as lawmakers searched for revenue to plug a nearly $900 million two-year budget gap and meet a court order demanding more funding for education.
For Brownback, a former senator and one-time presidential hopeful, the vote was nothing less than a humiliation. He had hailed his tax cuts as “a real live experiment” in conservative governance and offered them up as a model for other states and the Trump administration. Instead, they left him as the most unpopular governor in the country, who was reportedly casting about for a federal posting that would allow him to escape Topeka before the legislature could eviscerate his legacy. “The Brownback experiment didn’t work. We saw that loud and clear,” said Heidi Holliday, executive director of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.