People are funny about holding onto their religions, and honoring the saints. The Highway to Heaven is paved with souls who venerate the beliefs they were handed, and deify the mortal souls who represent them. That’s true if you’re talking about Peter and Yahweh, Mohammed and Allah or Buddha and…sandwiches. Or whatever. Adherents to the religion of Supply-Side Economics have long worshipped at the altar of St. Ronnie Reagan — but, unfortunately, that particular Highway to Heaven isn’t looking as smooth as it once was.
The people of Kansas have long prided themselves on their smooth and well-kept roads; possibly because roads are the only things that exist in Kansas, aside from corn. Smooth roads are Kansas’ Parthenon to Progress…but Republicans are good at halting human progress, and Kansans are learning now the price of electing the Congregation of Reagan to lead their state.
No, that’s not a perfect cliche of every 1980s businessman, ever; that’s Governor Sam Brownback, who you might remember as “that guy who ran for president for 15 minutes in 2008 and then withdrew before the primaries.” In 2010, Brownback ran for Governor of Kansas, having essentially lifted every single position from the neo-conservative playbook. In May of 2012, he signed into law a massive tax cut crafted almost word-for-word by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Which, for those who recently immigrated to America, is where corporations meet billionaires to buy politicians and write out laws for us.
Brownback called ALEC’s Supply-Side Symphony “a real live experiment” in economics; the law completely eliminated taxes for 191,000 business owners in the state, and cut income taxes by a stunning 29 percent. Actually, that was just for the top income earners in the state, who now get to keep almost a third more of their millions than they did in 2009.
All of this was projected to cost the state $934 million in lost income over the next six years. In every way conceivable, this tax cut was a Conservative Libertarian dream come true, guaranteed to turn Kansas into a utopia of economic growth. Grover Norquist called Senate Bill HB 2117 “model legislation” for the nation, guaranteed to stimulate massive growth in the state. It was passed overwhelmingly by a chorus of GOP legislators, and signed into law by Brownback.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to Heaven.
As anyone but a Republican could have predicted, Brownback’s Law did almost nothing for the state in terms of business and employment growth. But it did a lot for the wealthiest business owners, shifting almost the entire state’s remaining tax burden shifted squarely onto low- and middle-class workers. It also left Kansas with a $292 million budget shortfall as of June 2014, $314 million by the end of the year, and a predicted $2.5 billion by 2018.
Brownback’s solution thus far has been doing what conservatives do — cutting programs that poor people like, defunding public education and state universities, reducing the contributions that the state owed to pension programs. One county alone just got hit with a $1.55 million cut to its public school system. The entire state’s school system has been cut by 1.5 percent, with all $28.3 million “saved” going to cover the Supply Side Shortfall.
Brownback tried killing the Kansas Arts program completely, but the state legislature stopped him. Briefly. He got around his own legislators by cutting funding from the agency that funds the Arts program, killing it completely. Kansas is now the only state in the country without an Arts program; but Brownback is still rated 100 percent by the US Chamber of commerce and the Koch-funded Cato Institute. So, that’s the important thing.
For the most part, Kansas’ conservative, rural, talk-radio-listening base have applauded heartily; the state’s creditors, not so much. S&P saw what the voting public didn’t, and downgraded Kansas’ credit rating last year. Brownback’s solution — cut more funding to more state-administered programs. Which, again, hasn’t bothered the slack-jawed, yell-at-the TV crowd very much.
But now it seems Brownback’s gone a bridge too far. A crumbling bridge, at that.
In order to partially cover the budget shortfall he, ALEC and St. Ronnie Reagan created, Brownback recently announced deep cuts to the state’s most sacrosanct program: $158 million a year from the highway system, which is sure to halt maintenance, repair and upgrade plans already in place. Even among his colleagues — fellow GOP Reaganites who voted for his massive tax cut — that’s crossing a line no man dare in rural Kansas. Senator Forrest Knox is one of the state legislature’s most conservative members, and he had this to say:
“When I send out surveys and say, ‘What are the roles of government?’ — and this is not just my district — roads are generally at the top of the list.”
And that observation makes the top of our list, titled tentatively: “Well, No Sh*t.”
Representative Don Hineman, another Republican, has officially called this experiment in Reaganomics a failure:
“It’s time to stop living in Fantasyland,” he said.
Hear, hear, conservatives.
Of course, the great irony of all of this experiment in Reaganomics will almost certainly end up costing the state jobs. Kansas’ highway department employs a lot of people, and spends a lot of money locally keeping its beautiful roads up to world-class standards. Those state-funded roads aren’t just a point of pride — they’re public works projects that pour hundreds of millions into the state, and keep a lot of people gainfully employed in the there.
But hey…that’s the Highway to Supply Side Heaven. Shame it’ll be a little rougher through Kansas now.
H/T: Huffington Post