Is Kansas a lesson for Mississippi?
Conservative Governor Sam Brownback and the Republican controlled Kansas Legislature enacted massive state tax cuts five years ago, making Kansas the national poster child for anti-tax advocates.
Earlier this month, the Kansas Legislature, led by newly elected moderate Republicans, reversed those deep tax cuts following huge budget shortfalls and limited economic growth. The Legislature overrode a veto by Brownback to resurrect $1.2 billion in taxes. They removed personal income tax cuts and repealed a major tax exemption for small-business owners, basically restoring tax rates to where they were when Brownback took office.
Like in Mississippi, Republicans hold super majorities in the Kansas House (85 to 40) and Senate (31 to 9). Yet both houses garnered the two-thirds votes necessary to override the Governor's veto. Reports attribute the tax rollback to moderate Republicans elected to the Legislature last year.
"Moderate Republicans cruise to victories in Kansas primaries," read the headline in the Kansas City Star, August 2, 2016, as Republican voters ousted two dozen of Brownback's allies. Most went on to win in the November general election. Working with moderate Democrats, they succeeded in turning around Kansas's budget crisis.
Brownback touted his 2012 and 2013 tax cuts as "pro-growth" policies, similar to the comments we hear from Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and House Speaker Philip Gunn. But the limited growth following the tax cuts did not come close to offsetting declining state revenues.
Conservatives blamed the Republican-controlled Legislature for failing to reduce spending enough to offset the revenue losses.
“This is nothing new,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Atlantic. “You had a legislature unwilling to do the spending restraint necessary.”
"Yet where advocates on both the right and the left agreed is that Kansas, despite its decades-long tradition of Republican governance, simply did not want to go as far to the right economically as Brownback tried to push the state," wrote The Atlantic's Russell Berman.
Mississippi's Republican controlled legislature has passed 43 tax cuts totaling $577 million so far with another $415 million in tax cuts to phase in over 12 years.
Budget shortfalls the past two years have required Bryant to make mid-year emergency budget cuts and the Legislature to slash budgets and snatch every dollar of agency special funds it can find to support the general fund.
Touted economic growth from tax cuts has yet to materialize. State Economist Darrin Webb told legislators the state has not experienced two consecutive years of growth since 2008. The Associated Press reported he pointed to out-migration reducing the state's population and said, "People tend to go where the economic opportunities are."
Cuts to schools, community colleges, universities, forestry, health, and other state funded services have become serious. More will be necessary as the new tax cuts kick in if economic growth does not generate new revenues.
Like in Kansas, these tax and budget cuts will have consequences. It will be interesting to see whom these consequences boost or boot in Mississippi's 2019 elections — conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, or Democrats.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.