In a new segment I call “I wonder what’s happening in…” I turn my attention to the great state of Kansas.
Why, you may ask? Because I believe what has and is happening in the state is a reflection on what we can expect to see happen in the country.
Some may recall during the Obama administration, a hardline, right wing, tea party type, had just become the governor of Kansas . It was former Kansas senator Sam Brownback and he was going to run “a real live experiment” in his state.
In 2012, after his election, he began to use his power to force out moderate Republicans and Democrats from statewide House and State seats.
With a filibuster proof majority, he began one of the most conservative tax plans ever implemented in any state in the country.
Like any good right winger, he slashed taxes for top earners and eliminated them for more than 330,000 small businesses. Any disciple of trick down economics will tell you, cutting taxes boosts revenues because the high earners will now have more money to spend on hiring workers and investing in new stores and that in turn boosts revenue to the state.
One goal of the tax cuts was to get more money to flow back into the pockets of hard-working, job-creating Kansans. The other was to trim back government spending. It was part of the Republican dream.
What Brownback was touting was so radical he called it a “shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy”. But cutting taxes meant the state was starved of money and Kansas, which has a balance budget law, is forced to meet all of its bills.
That was 2012. Now its 2017. How has the “shot of adrenaline” worked?
In an excellent tick-tock, Mother Jones outlines what happened over the last few years:
…to balance the budget, the government tapped into the highway budget. Towns and cities trimmed back, too.
Marquette, Kansas saw its only school close in 2014. Now, the 65 kids who once attended Marquette Elementary travel 10 to 20 miles out of town every day to go to class.
Lawsuits ensue. The state Supreme Court, in 2014, reminded the governor the state constitution forces the legislature to provide “equitable funding” to all schools. And…
It orders the Legislature to devote tens of millions of dollars to low-income districts and asks lower courts to reexamine school spending.
The month after the ruling, Brownback does (what I’d call a Donald Trump move) and tries to strip the state Supreme Court of the power to appoint chief judges to district courts.
In 2015, a chief district judge sues the governor claiming the “strip the court of its power” law is unconstitutional. Brownback signs a law that if a court finds the “strip the court of its power” law unconstitutional, the entire state judicial system will be defunded.
In September, a judge finds the “strip the court of its power” law unconstitutional and Brownback’s “defund the judicial system law” takes effect. The entire state judicial system is defunded.
The Judge, Hendricks, agrees to set aside his ruling until the state Supreme Court can resolve the issue.
Another group of judges files a lawsuit calling the, “defund the judicial system” law (also called the “null and void” provision), unconstitutional:
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a rising political star, recuses himself from this new case. In his place, he hires Bradley Schlozman (whom an inspector general once found “unsuitable for federal service” due to his role in the politicization of the Justice Department during the Bush administration). But Schmidt then hatches a bizarre plan to shut down the judges’ lawsuit: He convinces a Brownback-appointed judge in tiny Neosho County to freeze the “null and void” provision.
By the way, that was all in September 2015.
We now move to November, where Brownback’s justice department insists that every justice on the state Supreme Court recuse themselves in essence arguing “it has created a law its highest court cannot review.” (sound familiar???)
Only the chief judge agrees to recuse himself.
The state Supreme Court rules against Brownback’s “strip the court of its power law”. The governor rescinds his “defund the judicial system” law 2016.
But the state Supreme Court goes further and threatens to shutdown all of the schools in the state until more money is appropriated to the schools fairly. The legislature ignores the ruling. A countdown begins as lawmakers have until June 30th to pass a bill funding all schools fairly.
March 22, 2016: The Kansas Senate narrowly passes a bill that would let lawmakers impeach state judges for “discourteous conduct” and other transgressions—a measure that could be invoked if the state Supreme Court continues to challenge the Brownback experiment.
So what’s happening in Kansas, today? According to the AP:
Kansas’ Republican-led Legislature approved a big increase in personal income taxes on Friday to help balance the state budget, defying Republican Gov. Sam Brownback by seeking to roll back his signature tax cuts.
The 22-18 vote came a day after the state House passed the measure, which sends the bill to Brownback. He has strongly criticized the bill as harmful to working-class families and smallbusinesses, and he said he wouldn’t sign it.
The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019. Even with a tax increase, lawmakers would need to pass some stop-gap measures, such as internal government borrowing, to allow the state to pay its bills through June 30, because new revenue can’t be raised that quickly.
Brownback has proposed raising cigarette and liquor taxes and the annual filing fees paid by for-profit businesses, along with internal government borrowing and other accounting moves. His conservative allies in the Senate argued that lawmakers were moving too quickly and said spending cuts should be considered first.
Is there any good news for the citizens of Kansas?
Brownback is term limited and will leave office at the end of his current term.