In 2012, there seemed a bright future for the two tax-cutting social conservatives in statehouses in Kansas and Louisiana: Sam Brownback and Bobby Jindal.
The rest of the story is well-known here about Jindal and his unsuccessful run for the presidency, and a decline in local popularity because of his lack of focus on his own state. Having cut taxes and given away record amounts of corporate benefits in the name of economic development, Jindal's embrace of voodoo economics eventually took its toll, and state budget collapses became a scandal in Baton Rouge.
The political impact on Jindal was substantial.
Now, it is Brownback's turn.
In 2012, Brownback approved sweeping tax cuts. The plan was associated in national politics with an ill-judged phrase, the "real live experiment" in voodoo economics. Kansas had no redeeming oil and gas industry to provide it a lift for revenues, as Jindal had in Louisiana; oil prices of $100 a barrel and Jindal's generous taking of President Barack Obama's stimulus aid postponed his day of reckoning.
The Kansas Legislature, mostly Republicans, has now pulled the plug on the Brownback lab. The reason: It failed to spur job growth and resulted in cuts to public agencies, sales tax increases and a deepening deficit.
Among other giant tax cuts, the Brownback plan exempted taxes for LLCs, the common small-business organizations. “That was a significant amount of money the state lost in revenue,” Maria Koklanaris, a senior reporter with Tax Analysts, a nonpartisan tax publishing news service, told the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Perhaps President Donald Trump, who has floated similar ideas as part of "tax reform" at the federal level, will take notice of the Brownback debacle.
Having overridden a Brownback veto to restore the state to stability, now the state must pick up the pieces. Just as Gov. John Bel Edwards has had to deal with the consequences of Jindalnomics, the state of Kansas is now in recovery.
The Topeka newspaper quoted a national expert on the longer-lasting impacts of the Brownback experiment. Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, said that states get it wrong when they decide to cut tax rates at the expense of services that promote long-term growth.
“The notion you could eliminate your income tax is forgetting you’re taking that money from schools and from people in the state,” he said. “You can’t get back those kids’ elementary school years. That brings home the impact of these policy choices we make.”
Leachman stressed the importance of investing in education and infrastructure, because those drive innovation and entrepreneurship in a state, and therefore develop the economy.
Louisiana's colleges and universities losing faculty to national competitors, its roads crumbling, its social services frayed and inefficient — all are legacies of voodoo economics in our state.
Another lesson: Brownback pushed back against the override of Kansas tax policy with the same argument made against tax reforms in the 2017 Legislature in Louisiana. The Kansas governor said that tax increases — restoring the old levels of taxes, more accurately — will not only hurt business recruitment but hit hard in rural areas where farms and energy producers face low prices now.
Now is not the time for tax reform, said many legislators in the oil patch in Louisiana, because parishes across the state have been hurt by the collapse of energy prices. That argument is shortsighted in terms of Leachman's analysis, but we hear it in Louisiana among practitioners of the voodoo that we know so well.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.