Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback talks to supporters during a campaign rally Monday, July 14, 2014, in Olathe, Kan.
Charlie Riedel/AP

Kansas’ Brownback apologizes for the wrong kind of failure

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) spent much of his first term failing so severely, even his critics were surprised. Most notably, the far-right governor launched an economic “experiment” – pushing massive tax breaks his state obviously couldn’t afford – which led to disastrous results, including debt downgrades, weak growth, and state finances in shambles.
 
Kansas being Kansas, Brownback managed to win a second term anyway, and as the governor gets ready to start his second term – and somehow clean up the mess he created – the Republican is willing to reflect a bit on his missteps.
Fresh off a re-election bid that he nearly lost because of the disastrous impact of his massive income tax cuts, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback now says he regrets his triumphant prediction that the tax cuts would be a “shot of adrenaline” to the state’s economy.
 
“I probably would have chosen words better at different times, because you go through a campaign where you’ve got to eat the words you inartfully said,” Brownback told the Topeka Capital-Journal.
I don’t mean to sound picky, but Brownback’s contrition is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of recent events. The governor enacted a radical economic experiment, which he said would give Kansas’ economy a “shot of adrenaline.” It quickly became a fiasco, and Brownback now regrets using the phrase.
 
He did not, however, express regret for pursuing an agenda that didn’t work.
 
In other words, the failure of Brownback’s rhetoric is a mild annoyance, but it’s trivial compared to the failure of Brownback’s policy.
 
The governor’s remorse is welcome, but if the Kansas Republican believes his word choice was the real problem, he’s badly missing the point. Indeed, given the scope of the state’s challenges – Kansas’ budget shortfall is even bigger than previously realized, and GOP policymakers still don’t have a credible plan to fix it – it’s a little alarming that Brownback’s apologies are limited to his phrasing.
 
If it’s any consolation, Rachael Bade reports that Brownback’s approach has drawn broad national attention, and the far-right Kansan has made the transition from model to cautionary tale.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich will roll out “responsible” tax plans that protect against revenue gaps. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Arizona’s new Republican governor are delaying big dreams of nixing the income tax as they face budget shortfalls. And Missouri Republicans, once jealous of their neighbor Kansas’ massive cuts, are thankful they trimmed less.
 
Call it the Brownback effect. Republicans once idolized Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as a tax cutting superstar – now he’s a lesson in what not to do.
 
“It’s a cautionary tale on a national scale … Many of us felt that [Kansas] had been too aggressive,” said Indiana Senate Majority Leader and tax committee chairman Brandt Hershman, who helped GOP Gov. Mike Pence cut corporate taxes last spring. “We all like low taxes … but we have to ensure the stability of a revenue stream to provide basic services that our citizens expect.”
Two years ago, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of Brownback’s radical economic experiment, “This is exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington.” Funny, McConnell hasn’t repeated this line lately.
 

Kansas, Sam Brownback and Tax Policy

Kansas' Brownback apologizes for the wrong kind of failure