Debate Magazine

Kansas = Epic Conservative Ideology Failure

Posted on the 09 May 2014 by Doggone

Kansas = Epic Conservative Ideology FailureConservatives believe things which demonstrably are not true.
Conservatives continue desperately to cling to ideology-driven policies even as they go under the waves of epic failure for the third time, rather than change, rather than repudiate their failed ideology, and rather than fact-check the results.
There IS such a thing as a bottom line, such a thing as a valid metric of success or failure by which we all can and must evaluate success or failure OTHER than ideology.  When ideology requires that, as a requirement of faith, you ignore objective reality, then ideology is wrong.
Kansas, like Wisconsin and other red states, became a victim of the Tea Party economics policies in the 2010 election cycle.  Kansas proved that cutting taxes does not result in growth or adequate revenue — just like similar measures failed with the Bush tax cuts in the first decade of the 21st century (and every other time, after time, after time it has been tried, either short term OR long term).
As Bloomberg Businessweek recently noted:
Sam Brownback has been a Tea Partier since before the Tea Party was born. When he became governor of Kansas in 2011, he set about making the state a testing ground for conservative principles, including cutting funding for some public education and the eventual elimination of the state’s income tax. “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in a 2012 op-ed. He predicted cutting taxes would “pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”
The Kansas experiment attracted the attention of both conservatives and liberals around the country, who saw it as an acid test for the Tea Party agenda. Brownback, a former U.S. senator who briefly ran for president in 2007, crept up the long list of dark horse candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination.
A little more than a year has passed since the first phase of the Brownback tax cuts went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, so it’s possible to make a preliminary assessment of their effects. The early verdict: not too good. The jury is still out on whether lower taxes will stimulate businesses to expand and hire over the long term. But the immediate effect has been to blow a hole in the state’s finances without noticeable economic growth.
In Kansas, one of the nation’s reddest states, the relevant political split isn’t between Republicans and Democrats but between conservative Republicans and somewhat more moderate ones. National Journal recently ranked Kansas’s four-member congressional delegation the most right-leaning in the country. That describes Brownback, too. A convert to Catholicism from evangelical Protestantism, he is as conservative socially as he is fiscally, opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. His campaigns have long been supported by billionaires Charles and David Koch, the conservative majority owners of Koch Industries, based in Wichita.
The most authoritative study of the effect of these measures is a January report by the Kansas Legislative Research Department, a nonpartisan arm of the legislature. It found that revenue isn’t keeping up with expenses even after cuts in spending on K-12 schools, colleges, libraries, local health departments, courts, and welfare. If nothing changed, the research department’s numbers show, the state’s general fund would have a shortfall of about $900 million by fiscal year 2019, or 14 percent of expenses that year. The state’s constitution requires a balanced budget, so either taxes will have to go back up or spending will have to come down even more. “The tax cuts don’t pay for themselves,” says Duane Goossen, who served as state budget director under both Republican and Democratic governors. “That just is not happening.”
Conservatives claim to hate government, scathingly deprecating what they term ‘big government’. What that really means is they don’t like it when government acts on behalf of all citizens to stop conservatives from doing bad things, like voter suppression, pollution, selling off public assets at a fraction of their value in the name of privatization that does not operate more efficiently and costs more, serving special interests to the detriment of ordinary people including letting the special interests draft their own legislation, discrimination against minorities, culture wars on the LGBT community, pushing creationism and other theology as science when it is not,  promoting revisionist history, etc.
If one looks honestly at what the ideal size of government should be, as has been done, in many different kinds of analysis, smaller government does not make anyone more free, it tends actually to make people more oppressed by big money and special interests. If one looks honestly at the functions of government, we all do better and succeed more with a healhty functioning government of a size suitable to our size in area, population and economy, both state and nationally. There is absolutely zero indication that smaller government correlates to a healthier economy at any level, or more individual freedom for anyone. You have only to look at the size of government and the higher rates of taxation of those nations which outperform us by every metric. Like economic policies, ideology about government needs a vigorous, rigorous reality check to see if assertions are true or false.
Another Bloomberg Businessweek article made a similar finding:
Innovative States Aren’t Low-Tax States
It’s intriguing to compare the fiscally conservative lists with those designed to highlight science, technology, human capital, and innovation. A very different story emerges. Take the Milken Institute’s State Technology and Science Index 2012 (pdf). Massachusetts, Maryland, California, Colorado, and Washington are its top five, while Wyoming, Nevada, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi rank lowest. The 2010 State New Economy Index, by the Kauffman Foundation, praises Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut, while South Dakota, Wyoming, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi are in last place.
…going through the various lists, it’s striking how low-tax states such as South Dakota and Wyoming hold a place of pride in fiscal rankings, while such states as California and Minnesota dominate innovation lists.
In general, low-tax states have historically been dependent on natural resources or on mass production industries, relying on low costs rather than innovative capacity to gain a competitive advantage. “But innovative capacity (derived through universities, R&D investments, scientists and engineers and entrepreneurial drive) is increasingly what drives competitive success,” write the Kauffman study scholars. (my emphasis added)
A similar insight informs an economic analysis into how New York City developed one of the nation’s largest and most vibrant tech/information sectors, second only to finance as an engine of economic growth in the city. Among the public policies that contributed to growth in the tech/information industry are the “funding of multiple tech incubators and training programs for entrepreneurs and small businesses; the rapid extension of broadband access throughout the city, including free Wi-Fi in key public spaces; NYC’s broad-reaching Open Data initiative; and the Applied Sciences competition, which has put Cornell-Technion on track to open a 2 million-square-foot campus on Roosevelt Island plus the expansions at Columbia University and NYU-Poly in Brooklyn,” observes Michael Mandel of South Mountain Economics in a report (pdf) prepared for the Bloomberg Technology Summit last September. Going through the report, taxes aren’t even mentioned.
Of course, New York City is anything but a low-tax regime, yet the metropolitan area is thriving in the global economy. The same goes for Minnesota and California. The lesson isn’t that high taxes are good or lead to dynamic growth, but that investment in human capital, technology, science, and knowledge matter in an intensely competitive global economy. The Milken Institute scholars hit the right note. “Technology and science are important to states and by extension the nation because innovation drives economic growth and bolsters the ability to compete in the global economy,” the Milken Report says. “State governments must recognize this and adopt policies that maximize their ability to innovate.”
It is not an accident that Minnesota is more successful than Kansas, in education, in economic growth, in a low unemployment rate, in a government budget surplus – or any of the other states which emulate Kansas conservative taxation and other economic policies. It is not an accident that conservatives in those states try to blame everyone but themselves, from Obama on down, with false claims that federal policies stunted their economic growth, when clearly states with liberal legislatures and governors (aka blue states) are dramatically outperforming conservative states (aka red states).
Blue states tax more, spend more on education and infrastructure, and generally understand what drives economic success and what does not. Blue states rely on facts, not blind ideology that refuses to acknowledge reality when it diverges from that ideology.
If we support so-called liberal fact-driven reality-based economic and government choices, both in policies and politicians, we will do better as a state, and better as a nation.
The recent Franken ad nails it:

Government is not the enemy that the radical right portrays it to be. 
Investment in education pays off in educational and economic outcomes.  Shrinking government and then strangling government in the bathtub only serves to harm us all, it does not create a more vigorous or growing economy, or a well educated citizenry.
We need to REALLY hold government accountable, with bottom line honest measurements of what succeeds and what fails, not blind ideology.   So-called “Common sense ideas” coming from the mouths of conservatives equate to “don’t look too closely for results” and demonstrate a complete and utter failure to recognize that simplistic bumper-sticker thinking is a failure, or that sometimes solutions might be counter-intuitive and more complicated in the real world of adults.

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