Conservative economic policy turned Kansas into a “smoking ruin.” Now, a cure for what’s the matter with Kansas is coming from an unexpected source.
In 2012, Kansas governor Sam Brownback signed into law a massive tax cut that he said would boost the state’s economy. Brownback even mused about eliminating income taxes altogether. That’s how enthusiastic he was. Conservatives were enthusiastic, too. Kansas was going to show America how it was done, and Sam Brownback would be a serious contender for the presidency. Never mind what we already know about tax cuts.
We know what happened. Brownback’s tax cuts gutted Kansas’ budget, costing the state $700 million in lost revenue. Things got so bad that Kansas was reduced to auctioning off repossessed sex toys to help plug the hole in the state’s budget.
Brownback trailed his Democratic opponent in most polls leading up to the election in November, but kept his job in November, despite his failed experiment in conservative fiscal policy. A suddenly competitive Senate race, and $5 million in television ads from outside groups gave Brownback just enough of a boost to defeat Democrat Paul Davis (who only got $3.7 million from outside groups) by four percentage points.
There wasn’t much time to celebrate. One day after Brownback’s victory, state officials revealed that Kansas would have a $297 million budget shortfall by next summer.
Last week, Brownback announced his plan to close the latest hole in Kansas’ budget: cut $70 million in spending and divert $200 million into the state general fund from highway projects, pensions, and other reserves. Brownback’s measures just kick the fiscal can another year down the road, when the shortfall previously projected at $436 million will have grown to $648 million. Meanwhile, Kansas’ is expected to collect $1 billion less than its projected expenses in 2015 and 2016. That’s why the door has even opened slightly to a rollback of the tax cuts Brownback is so proud of.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe that’s why a rabidly anti-Obamacare governor like Brownback, who still blames Obamacare for the budget shortfall his own tax cuts created, has turned to Obamacare to bandage the holes in Kansas’ budget. As part of his short-term effort to close out this year’s shortfall, Brownback is transferring $55 million from Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s fee fund. The fund is a by-product of a Medicaid drug rebate program funded by the Affordable Care Act, a k a “Obamacare.”
Taking $55 million from Obamacare is like putting a Band-Aid on a severed artery. It won’t cure the conservative failure that ails Kansas.