Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers his State of the State speech to an annual joint session of the House and Senate at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Jan. 15, 2014.
Photo by Orlin Wagner/AP

Kansas’ regressive approach to redistributing wealth

Updated
There are two main problems with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) far-right economic experiment. The first is that the plan didn’t work – it didn’t create the promised jobs boom; it didn’t create massive growth; and it didn’t cause businesses to stampede into the state.
 
The second problem is the challenge of dealing with the consequences of failure. The Republican governor’s plan, after causing a debt downgrade, left a significant hole in Kansas’ state budget, which GOP policymakers have struggled badly to fill.
 
A few days ago, however, the Republican-run state government grudgingly approved a new budget, which actually included tax increases. Reluctant lawmakers said Brownback hadn’t left them much of a choice – Brownback effectively told the state legislature to raise sales taxes and cigarette taxes or he’d slash funding even more on education and disability services.
 
From a distance, it might seem as if this were a liberal solution to a conservative problem – Kansas Republicans got themselves in a jam by cutting taxes too much, and to put things right, they decided to start raising taxes to fix the problem. But the details matter and that’s not quite right.
 
The Kansas City Star’s Dave Helling explained it’s not just a matter of asking Kansans to pay more – it’s a question of which Kansans will pay more.
[N]o group, experts believe, gets hurt more than the state’s low- and moderate-income workers, those earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. They now face higher taxes on essential purchases without most of the subsidies that protect poorer Kansans from government’s bite.
 
Low-income workers, unlike those with significantly higher earnings, must watch their pennies carefully to pay for other essentials such as transportation and housing. Soon, more of those pennies – which quickly grow to dollars – will be on their way to Topeka.
Let’s call this what it is: a redistribution of wealth, from the bottom up. Kansas is keeping its tax breaks for the wealthy, while approving tax increases – by some measures, “the largest tax increase in state history” – that will disproportionately affect those at the bottom.
 
This may seem counter-intuitive. After all, everyone will pay the same sales taxes, regardless of income, so conservatives may see this as equitable and fair.
 
But it’s not. As a Washington Post piece recently explained, “People who make less are more vulnerable to increases in sales and excise taxes, since they spend more of their money buying basic goods and services they need to get by. This is especially the case in Kansas, where food is subject to sales tax. Kansans can receive a tax rebate for their food purchases, but those who make nothing or too little to owe income tax aren’t eligible. They pay the sales tax on food in full.”
 
And now, Kansas has one of the highest, most regressive food taxes in the nation.
 
Congratulations, Kansas. You appear to be living in a Dickensian nightmare.
 

Kansas, Sam Brownback and Wealth

Kansas' regressive approach to redistributing wealth

Updated