IT HAS been five years since Kansas, prodded by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, decided to make itself the subject of a gruesome experiment in fiscal self-evisceration — a regime of draconian tax cuts that, unsurprisingly, blew a prairie-size hole in the state’s budget. The resulting casualties included funding for public schools, about which, it turns out, many Kansans care deeply.
On Tuesday, the Republican-led state legislature, lacking the stomach for further budgetary carnage, called a halt to Mr. Brownback’s experiment and to the facile conservative fiction that steep tax cuts trigger miraculous economic growth. Overriding the governor’s veto, it enacted tax increases to plug the yawning deficit as well as to supplement school spending, whose inadequacy, the state’s highest court concluded, has hurt minority and poor students.
The failed venture in Kansas should serve as an object lesson for Republicans elsewhere who think states can starve their way to prosperity. Mr. Brownback, a trickle-down true believer, portrayed his tax cuts as a force for job creation and a revitalized business climate. In fact, no revitalization materialized. Kansas’s economy remains sluggish; meanwhile, rating agencies twice downgraded the state’s bonds, increasing its borrowing costs.
Mr. Brownback’s humiliation is the product of ideological fervor trumping empirical evidence. Tax cuts may spur some growth, depending on their design and other economic conditions, but they do not magically pay for themselves. They do deal a blow to revenue collection, leaving lawmakers to reduce spending in ways that can do real harm — and that voters may not tolerate.
The governor pleaded with lawmakers to exercise more patience, as if prolonging the budget’s starvation diet would somehow make the state tougher. But a two-thirds majority of both houses of the legislature voted to reject the governor’s veto of a $1.2 billion revenue enhancement over two years.
That amounts to the biggest such tax increase in state history, but it really just restores revenue more or less to the level at which it stood before Mr. Brownback started wielding his meat cleaver. The governor, and tax-cutting prophets like Grover Norquist, denounced the move as one that will inflict a blow to Kansas. In fact, as Kansans themselves well understood — they threw more than two dozen hard-liner tax-cutting Republicans out of office in last year’s state legislative elections — the real damage was done by Mr. Brownback’s cuts. The “miracle” in Kansas was a mirage.