Before 1960, the state of Maine held its political elections in September, ahead of elections in November in nearly all other states. So often did the outcome of Maine’s choice of president prefigure the national outcome that the state got the reputation of a political bellwether: “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”
That old slogan comes to mind when one listens to current commentary about Kansas and the course of its economy in the past four years. Has Kansas under Governor Brownback prefigured what will happen in America generally if President Trump’s proposed budget is adopted? Does the nation face the prospect, “As Kansas goes, so goes the nation?”
Duane Goossen, former Kansas legislator and state budget director, has published an open letter to the Kansas congressional delegation, warning that Trump’s tax proposal is remarkably similar to Brownback’s experiment. That experiment shifted the tax burden from the upper classes to the middle class. The result has been an economic disaster for Kansas. The Brownback tax cuts, in Goossen’s words, “broke the state budget, wiped out reserves, significantly boosted state debt, and put public education at risk.” The dream that tax cuts for the wealthiest would “trickle down” to the lower classes and generate economic growth proved to be a great delusion.
The three Mennonite state representatives—Don Schroeder (R), Steven Becker (R) and Tim Hodge (D) agree with Goossen. They all joined with a majority of fellow legislators to vote to reverse the failed tax policies of 2012 and to override Brownback’s veto of that decision. But the legislature did not get the two thirds majority necessary to override the veto. The state has not found a way to bring in enough revenue to provide essential services. The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the legislature to fix school finance by June 30.
The anemic Kansas economy has discredited the ideology of “supply side economics.” The state has one of the lowest job growth rates in the nation. While Kansans generally believe that the 2012 tax policies were responsible for the state’s economic downturn, the governor argues that the problem is caused by declines in the oil, agriculture and aviation industries. But that doesn’t explain why Kansas’ economy has not kept up with that of neighboring states.
Will the national legislature take the federal budget down the same road that Kansas has gone? If so, will the economic results be similar? Conservative Republican legislators, in Kansas as in the rest of the country, are indebted to wealthy businessmen who stand to benefit from tax cuts for the rich. Kansas Representatives Marshall, Jenkins, Yoder and Estes, along with Senators Roberts and Moran, are hostage to those who have financed their campaigns. They have political reasons to support Trump’s proposed budget.
The Kansas experiment may indeed be the bellwether for the country. The rich may get richer, the gulf between the upper and lower classes may widen, and the national economy may suffer. There is indeed reason to fear that “As Kansas Goes, so Goes the Nation.”